Ateneo vs. UST: Who's your pick?

The UAAP’s best-of-three finals between defending champion Ateneo and University of Sto. Tomas will get going this Saturday in what is shaping up to be a very interesting title series. The Blue Eagles, who are going for their fifth straight crown, are 8-1 in championship games during their four-year title run, their solitary loss coming against UE in 2009. The last team to beat them in the finals? UST in 2006.

We gathered three Yahoo! PH Sports bloggers  - Bob Guerrero, Charlie Cuna, and Jude Roque - to get their take on the UAAP Finals. Here’s what they had to say to the questions we posed:

Which match-up will be crucial?

Bob: Karim Abdul versus Greg Slaughter.   Nobody's been able to stop Ateneo's big center much this season.  But Karim just might have the physicality to do it. He isn't the MVP runner-up for nothing. His post moves are good and has decent range.  This is, for me the matchup that will spell the difference.  If UST can neutralize Slaughter then Ateneo will be forced to rely on outside shooting which may or may not work for them.

Charlie: The matchup of the benches will be crucial.  The starting fives of both teams are expected to produce.  If they do, well and good, but players have to come off the bench and relieve them from time to time.  If they don't, then the bench players have to provide instant relief to plug any holes.  I feel the starters may just cancel each other out.  It's the 6th, 7th, or 8th man that will probably lift either team to victory.

Jude: I think the Slaughter-Abdul match up will be crucial.  Slaughter is Ateneo's biggest edge over all opponents.  It would be a great help to UST if Abdul can defend against Slaughter without the need to double team.  Abdul is also UST's main weapon inside.  A big question is how much he can score against Slaughter and Ateneo's half-court defense.

Who's the x-factor on each team?

Bob: Tonino Gonzaga is like a terrier who sinks his teeth into your pants leg and won't let go. He is one of Ateneo's best defenders and knows that disrupting UST's offense is his primary responsibility.  UST is a team that often lives and dies from beyond the arc. Clark Bautista needs his aim to be sharp for the Tigers to end the Eagles' fivepeat bid.

Charlie: For Ateneo, it's Ryan Buenafe.  He has championship experience (winning shot two seasons ago), can play multiple positions, and do so many things on the court. The ball is safest for Ateneo when in his or Kiefer Ravena's hands.  His game has been rising lately, which is perfect for the Eagles.

Aljon Mariano (aside from Abdul) is the guy that has made the hugest difference for UST this year. He was not counted on to produce the way he has before the season started, but he has been quite consistent in helping the Tigers win. We expect the other guys (Abdul, Teng, Bautista, Fortuna,
Ferrer) to produce, but Mariano can spread the defense and provide explosive scoring when his game is on.

Jude: For UST, it's Ferrer.  If Ferrer plays the same way he did against NU in the semis, he will certainly give match-up problems to Ateneo.  Mariano, Teng, Abdul and Fortuna can have their usual numbers.  And if Ferrer contributes big, it will boost UST's chances.  For Ateneo, it's Buenafe.  If he can provide the outside scoring, it will be tough defending against the Blue Eagles.  Slaughter and Salva can take care of the inside points while Ravena can have his normal all-around game.  Not much can be expected from Tiongson and Gonzaga.  Buenafe should complete Ateneo's offense.

Both elimination round games were very close. Do you see the finals going the same way?

Bob: A close Game 1 then a decisive Game 2 for Ateneo is what I expect. UST will frustrate Ateneo with solid defense and three point shooting. But in Game 2 I just have a feeling that Ateneo's quality will win the day and the Blue Eagles will run away and make it decisive.

Charlie: Definitely.  The fans expect no less, after the battles these teams had this season.  Ateneo cannot toy with UST the way it does with some other teams.

UST always steps up its game against Ateneo.  Because the games should be close, the crunch time composure of both teams will be tested, and breaks of the game can decide who wins.

Jude: I think if UST can bring out its A-game and get more from Ferrer and Bautista, the finals will be close.

What's going to ultimately win this for Ateneo? For UST?

Bob: Ateneo will win on the strength of their stifling man-to-man defense  which will force turnovers and poor shots and will lead to fast break points. When they go into half court sets Greg Slaughter should be able to outplay Abdul in the paint.

Charlie: For both teams, it's execution.  The level of play will be at its optimum, so any slight miscalculation may turn the tide.  Ravena and Buenafe are two of the best at keeping things in order for Ateneo. Can the guards of UST do the same on their end? I believe so. In this series, a crucial turnover could mean game over.

Jude: For Ateneo, half-court defense especially against Teng and Mariano.  UST is a good offensive team but Norman Black is a great defensive coach.  For UST, defense versus Slaughter, and the ability to rotate well off the post double team (if they double team on Greg).

Putting you on the spot here: what's your prediction for the series?

Bob: Ateneo in two.  The ghosts of 2006 will finally be laid to rest.

Charlie: Close as the games should be, I believe Ateneo will sweep the series.  The Eagles know how to win (four straight!) and being this close to another championship ensures their focus and determination.  I like rooting for the underdog and would actually love to see another team win the crown, but UST will be hard-pressed to be that team this year.

Jude: Ateneo in two games.  But both games will be close, especially Game 1.


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