'This might be our toughest championship to win'

An ever-smiling Paolo Trillo strode into the Shakey’s Malate during the PSA Forum Tuesday, readily acknowledging the sportswriters with a grin. But when the usual Q-and-A got on a roll, his choirboy-like face also started to frown.

With formidable University of Santo Tomas standing in their way for a fifth straight men’s basketball title, Trillo sounded wary of the Blue Eagles’ chances in the best-of-three UAAP Season 75 finals showdown starting this Saturday at the MOA Arena.

“Our feeling is, this might be the toughest and hardest championship to win,” stressed Trillo, “because UST is a very tough opponent. We know that very formidable and very complete ang UST. They also have a lot of experience.

“In terms of our head-to-head, expect (this) championship to be a toss up,” he added.

Bidding to give coach Norman Black a perfect send-off, the Blue Eagles, although the top-seeded team, will have their hands full against the dangerous Growling Tigers, the second-ranked team, according to Trillo.

Ateneo is coming off a thrilling 66-63 win over archrival La Salle last Saturday and boasts the likes of seven-foot center Greg Slaughter, nifty guard Keifer Ravena and efficient forward Nico Salva, yet Trillo insists UST is capable enough to repeat its 2006 trick.

“They’re complete. Every position mayro’n silang main player. Of course, si (Karim) Abdul. They also have scorers like (Jeric) Teng and (Kevin) Ferrer. ‘Yung point guard nila very smart–si (Jeric) Fortuna, crafty player. Tapos si (Aljon) Mariano, he’s having a big season. They have a lot of firepower so we really have to worry about the whole team,” he noted.

The Growling Tigers, who ousted host National University 63-57 last Saturday, are not only planning to put the clamps down on Ateneo’s ‘Big Four’–Slaughter, Ravena, Salva, and Ryan Buenafe–but the rest of the Blue Eagles as well.

“Top four nila si Slaughter, (Ryan) Buenafe, Salva and Ravena pero tignan rin natin si (Juami) Tiongson, maganda rin ang nilalaro niya. Malakas ang Ateneo because they work and play as a team offensively and defensively,” stated UST coach Pido Jarencio.

Although Jarencio, 48, insisted the pressure stays on the side of Ateneo, Trillo hopes the Blue Eagles to respond big time, saying: “The pressure is always there. We just have to deal with it. Five-peat is a rare feat. Baka hindi na maulit sa’min, so we want to make the most out of it going to the championship.”

Then led by Jervy Cruz and Jojo Duncil, UST pulled off the improbable against a heavily-favored Ateneo, spearheaded by JC Intal and Doug Kramer, in three pulsating games in 2006, and that six-year drought is precisely what has Jarencio craving for more.

“Sobra-sobra. Nag-fa-Final Four kami pero walang finals appearance. Nu’ng pre-season, hindi kami pinag-uusapan. Kaya nothing to lose kami. Personally ako rin, matagal tagal na rin tayong hindi nag-cha-champion. Baka sakali ngayon.”


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