Who will melt in pressure cooker?By Sev Sarmenta
Philippine Daily Inquirer
THE TWICE-TO-BEAT edge in our local version of the Final Four for collegiate basketball allows those with the advantage to get rid of opponents quickly without having to go through a series before reaching the Finals.
UST and Ateneo, two of the country’s oldest universities, arranged a showdown for the UAAP men’s basketball crown by nipping their opponents last Saturday and prevented any chance of their opponents catching a second wind. The Blue Eagles and the Tigers took the first two spots after the two-round classification phase. NU barged in to face the Tigers after winning the replayed game against FEU. The Green Archers came from behind against FEU in a KO game to book the last ticket against the Blue Eagles.
NU’s entry into the semifinals after a little over a decade ended when the Growling Tigers used the full strength of their pack to take the first finals seat with a 63-57 win. The Bulldogs needed to extend the series but could not find other weapons to contain the hungry Tigers.
In the other semis duel, La Salle’s sterling season-ending run grounded to a halt when the three-point shooting that brought the Archers to the Final Four deserted them when they needed it most. With Keifer Ravena tossing his teammates on his back, Ateneo scratched and clawed from 11 points down to squeeze out a 66-63 triumph.
Now it’s the Blue Eagles and the Tigers anew in the finals, the same contenders that slugged it out in a bruising best-of-three finale won by UST in 2006.
The basketball gurus will most likely choose the Blue Eagles to win their fifth straight title. Giving coach Norman Black a fitting adieu is a strong motivational tool. All the present day Eagles will care about is winning the fifth. The fate of the team next year with a new coach and without the generous support of patron Manny Pangilinan is too far ahead in the future to think about.
The defending champions have a strong starting five and a reliable bench that gives Black enormous flexibility. He can move the pieces around like a chess player without losing too much fortification or material for his positions on the floor. The Blue Eagles also know how to win in the end game as shown in their composure against UST in the second round and La Salle last Saturday.
But don’t count out the Tigers in the same way they were not counted out in 2006. Jojo Duncil and company waged a fearless end game rally to stop Black from winning his first title. The current Tigers are good in every position and have scorers and speedsters that can show the Blue Eagles different offensive looks. Ateneo’s defense will have its hands full marking Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano, Jeric Fortuna, Jeric Teng and hardworking center Karim Abdul.
So will it be the Eagles or the Tigers who will lord the UAAP jungle?
The squad that has the less turnovers, defensive lapses and problems with the officiating will have the decisive edge in the series. The UAAP finals are all about poise in a merciless pressure cooker. Forget about those predictable intangibles like wanting-it-more or passion. Those will all be there. Watch out for who can handle the heat or succumb to it.
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