Dynasty against destiny will be the name of the game as three-time reigning champion Ateneo and the title-hungry University of the Philippines engage in a final duel for the prestigious title of the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City today.
The mighty Blue Eagles and a strong challenger in the Fighting Maroons traded blows in the first two games of the best-of-three series, setting the stage for one last showdown at 6 p.m. on May 13.
A win by Ateneo, the three-time defending titlist, would extend its reign in the league for a fourth straight season, while UP’s triumph would deliver it to the "Promised Land" – a journey that would have taken 36 long years.
Facing elimination for only the first time in four years after a tough 81-74 overtime loss in Game 1, Ateneo showed steady resolve despite another near-meltdown by escaping with a narrow 69-66 Game 2 to force a winner-take-all.
Game Three is going to be potentially an epic game.
This time, coach Tab Baldwin sees no difference as he braces for another down-the-wire combat in the last installment of the fabled “Battle of Katipunan'' of the unique UAAP tourney under a bubble setting amid the pandemic.
“You can’t really separate these two teams very much from one another so I think Game Three is going to be potentially an epic game. We’re excited that we’re there,” he said as Ateneo and UP sport a 2-2 overall slate this season.
Ateneo scored a 90-81 win in the first round of the eliminations while UP got back with a stinging 84-83 win in the second round that also denied the former a 14-0 sweep and ticket straight trip to the finals.
“Nothing is easy in this series. It’s tough and if ever there’s a flip of a coin, Game Three could be that,” added Baldwin, crediting the wonders of debuting collegiate coach Goldwin Monteverde for UP.
Lumalaban kami hanggang dulo.
UP, which also ended Ateneo’s 39-game, three-year winning streak, expects the same airtight duel with the working formula so far to topple its good rival’s dynasty.
“The formula in basketball has to be consistent in playing as a team offensively and defensively. We had a slow start last game and our defense was not that tight but we’re gonna work on it,” said Monteverde, the former author of National U dynasty in the Philippine high school scene.
“For one thing, the team takes pride. We never give up. Lumalaban kami hanggang dulo,” he added as the Fighting Maroons aim to set a date with UAAP destiny for the first time since 1986.