By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
EARLY LEADERS in Season 82 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines collide today as defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles face off with the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers in league action today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Set for 10:30 a.m., Ateneo and UST, both sporting 2-0 records, stake their unbeaten cards against one another with an eye as well at extending their solid start to the new UAAP season.
Also playing today are the De La Salle Green Archers (0-1) and National University Bulldogs (0-1) at 12 noon and the Adamson Soaring Falcons (1-1) against the University of the East Red Warriors (0-2) at 4 p.m.
The Eagles enter today’s game fresh from its 80-69 triumph over rival La Salle on Sept. 8. Prior to it, Ateneo beat Adamson, 70-52, on opening day on Sept. 4.
Against the Archers, seniors Mike and Matt Nieto were instrumental in giving Ateneo a big enough cushion in the second quarter from which La Salle could not recover from.
The Blue Eagles, on the strength of a 28-point explosion in the second frame, took a 51-29 halftime lead.
Mike led Ateneo with 18 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two steals, while twin brother Matt added 15 points and three boards for Ateneo.
Gian Mamuyac also made his presence felt late, fending off La Salle after it got to within eight in the payoff period, burying timely buckets in the last three minutes before finishing with a career-best 14 points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
While they are showing solid form early in their title defense, the Eagles understand that they have to stay on guard, especially against a team like UST.
“I love the way they play basketball. I really do. I mean, they just throw their heads back and go full steam. If they’re hitting shots, good luck. I don’t think you’ll beat them if they’re hitting shots. I think you gotta play unbelievable defense against their pace,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin when asked for his thoughts on their game against the Tigers.
“Certainly we have to make some systemic adjustments before we play them. So obviously I’m expecting a really tough game … They (UST) buy into the system, the discipline is outstanding so I don’t expect anything easy on Wednesday,” he added.
Over at UST, it is coming off an upset of the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, 85-69, on Sept. 7 in follow up to its victory against UE, 95-82, previously.
Mark Nonoy led the Tigers’ rampage as the super rookie unloaded 16 points, five rebounds, and two assists to steer his side to the win.
Beninese big man Soulemane Chabi Yo also did his part inside as he posted 18 points, 18 rebounds, two steals, one assist, and one block to help UST deliver a statement against last season’s runner-up.
“I just told the players to play as a team. Man-for-man UP has the advantage over us so we just prepared hard and stuck to our game plan. We made mistakes along the way but they gave their best and it worked for us,” said UST coach Aldin Ayo after their win.
Turning his attention to Ateneo, Mr. Ayo said they have their work cut out for them but they will try to win.
“Well, obviously they are the best collegiate team. We will try to stay close to them as possible and take it from there. This is a competition. Every time you compete, every time you play, of course, you always aim to win. And you are going to do your best, you are going to squeeze everything just to win. We’re going to do our best and hopefully the result is favorable to us,” he said.