REPEAT of the Battle of Katipunan —THE UAAP

ONCE more, the UAAP is seen to stage a Battle of Katipunan finale as teams tag University of the Philippines and Ateneo as the heavy title favorites for Season 85 starting this weekend.

All schools have hailed the Fighting Maroons and the Blue Eagles, protagonists of Season 84 finals, as the teams to beat anew with La Salle, National U and host Adamson lurking as capable forces for the UAAP’s second straight season this year amid the pandemic.

Last summer, UP and Ateneo figured in a classic three-game finals series that ended on a buzzer-beating triple of JD Cagulangan to lift the Diliman-based squad to its first UAAP title since 1986.

UP’s historic win also denied Ateneo a four-peat championship in the process, making both squads as the untouched yardstick the UAAP field has to go through this season.

“It’s UP and Ateneo,” said coach Nash Racela of Far Eastern U, which holds the longest active Final Four streak for eight seasons albeit without a finals appearance since its last title in 2015.

UP’s Goldwin Monteverde and Ateneo’s Tab Baldwin, for their parts, declared each other as the UAAP’s lone force to beat though wary of the tough playing field given the better preparations of all teams with the return of preseason tournaments and overseas camps.

“We were both blessed and not blessed in our preparation. Obviously, the opportunity to travel overseas was really good but missing out on competing against our UAAP opponents is something that may come back to bite us a little bit,” said Mr. Baldwin.

In anticipation of a bigger mountain to climb this season, UP had a training camp in Japan while Ateneo trooped to Israel aside from winning the inaugural World University Basketball Series in Japan as the world relaxes COVID-19 restrictions.

La Salle, after winning the PBA D-League, also staged a camp in Japan while other UAAP teams made the most out of their offseason here led by Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup champion NU and Kadayawan Cup titlist Adamson.

“I’m sure everybody is in a fighting spirit. I’m sure everybody is ready to go,” added Mr. Baldwin ahead of the opening day pitting Adamson versus Santo Tomas and UP against La Salle.

The UAAP, which has Ateneo-FEU and NU-UE the next day, will broadcast live on Cignal TV and One Sports as well as online through Cignal Play and Smart Giga Play during Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. — John Bryan Ulanday