SPORTS KEN: Basketball madness

What is in store for Ateneo and La Salle in the UAAP Final Four?

Top seed Ateneo confronts number four FEU on Sunday Nov. 19 while number two seed La Salle collides against number three Adamson a day ahead on Saturday Nov. 18.

Though finishing one and two, the Eagles and Archers are not guaranteed safe passage into the championship.

All coaches are agreed that the battle has shifted into a higher gear, a different level as they call it.

FEU is quite unpredictable and has been on a rollercoaster ride since the start of the tournament. They lost a game they could have won to NU and only regained its footing when it defeated Adamson to secure a berth in the Final Four.

I cannot see how the Eagles will lose to the Tamaraws but it is not wise to bury the latter in the grave this early.

FEU coach Olsen Racela, a former Blue Eagle star, can turn the tables around if he can harness his boys to cohesively put up a more than just decent defense against Ateneo’s snipers.  An aggressive but deliberate slow half-court offense is the antidote to the Eagles’ game-long running style.

On the other page, La Salle cannot take Adamson for granted. The Falcons are just about ready to seize the moment. The Falcons are well-tutored by ex-La Salle mentor Francis Pumaren who originally delivered the Archers’ four consecutive UAAP championships.

Pumaren knows what his problems are: Ben Mbala’s monstrous rebounding and scoring prowess as well as La Salle’s quick outside shooters.

Normally, coaches admit you can’t put a good man down so they instead prevent the opponent’s bench from contributing in the scoring and offensive chores.

This is what both bench strategists Racela and Pumaren need to do if each can register a possible though remote upset.

Stats will show that both benches of Ateneo and La Salle are capable of scoring in the high 70s. If the defenses of FEU and Adamson can decrease or limit their respective opponents below 60, they might have a chance at victory.

This is the essence of a well-laid out defensive plan, much like protecting the Corregidor fortress against the savage onslaught of a Japanese invasion.

However, even as this analysis serves as an aperitif, Ateneo and La Salle will fight tooth and nail (throw everything in the kitchen as a jealous wife would) to get there.

In fact, I would not want to be the spoil sport.

The heated rivalry between Ateneo and La Salle has established legendary proportions and have thus dominated the UAAP basketball event for so long.

By heart, I know that basketball fans in general would prefer watching (even on TV) a gladiatorial combat of “matira ang matibay” between these two top collegiate teams.

Another “boxing-ball” coming up? Maybe, maybe not.

Of course, nobody wants to lose and every player on the bench will try to contribute whatever he can to make his team win the trophy and the championship.

Adamson is the dark horse and is the hungriest among the four combatants. FEU is a long shot.  The Morayta-based squad enjoys the tradition of being a champion many times. It will always exert its best.

For that matter, Ateneo and La Salle must watch out. A misstep will make heads roll. I can’t say if they feel the greater pressure because so much positive results are expected of them by their fellow students, school officials, alumni and supporters.

Only one thing is certain: Bilog ang bola. (Email your feedback to Heb. 1:14. “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” GOD BLESS THE PHILIPPINES!