Games Wednesday
(Mall of Asia Arena)
9 a.m. — NU vs Ateneo (women’s Final Four)
11 a.m. — UST vs UP (women’s Final Four)
2 p.m. — Ateneo vs Adamson (men’s playoff)

REIGNING champion Ateneo de Manila University and Adamson University lock claws in a knockout (KO) derby to dispute the fourth and last ticket in the The University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 86 men’s basketball tournament Final Four today at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Game time is at 2 p.m. with the Blue Eagles and the Soaring Falcons gunning for each other’s necks for the right to face leader University of the Philippines (UP) in the semifinals that also feature No. 2 De La Salle University and third-running National University (NU) in the other bracket.

Prior to that, seven-peat champion NU shores up its title defense against No. 4 Ateneo at 9 a.m. followed by the duel between second-ranked University of Santo Tomas (UST) and No. 3 University of the Philippines at 11 am. in the women’s Final Four. NU and Santo Tomas sport win-once bonuses.

But the spotlight, for now, is on the Blue Eagles and the Soaring Falcons, who got dragged into a playoff after similar 7-7 slates at the end of the two-round eliminations.

The stars aligned for Adamson in a wild development over the weekend just to stay alive in the race after Ateneo’s costly 72-69 loss against De La Salle for its seventh loss.

Then still at 6-7, the Soaring Falcons took care of the bargain by eclipsing the also-ran UE Red Warriors on Matthew Montebon’s game-winning trey, 63-61, to catch the Blue Eagles at fourth place.

With yet another chance against all odds including the absence of ace guard Jerom Lastimosa due to season-ending ACL injury, Nash Racela urges his wards to continue braving on in a bid to replicate its stellar feat last season.

“There are no freebies in this world. We have to earn everything. You have to take it if you want it,” said Mr. Racela, whose wards led by Mr. Lastimosa in Season 85 escaped with a thrilling 80-76 win against De La Salle in the knockout match to make it to the semis. Now, Adamson has another big gun in Ateneo as its hurdle.

“Now, we’re here and that’s all we want, right? To get a crack at that final four. Because Adamson also deserves to be there, right?”

Standing in their way are the charges of Tab Baldwin, who are out to prove that they’re still the reigning UAAP kings for a reason despite needing to work their way up from an uncharted territory.

“I hope we get in. That’s the biggest thing. We’ll see. We’ll see how it plays out. Adamson is really tough. They’re one of the tough teams to contend with. We’ll see how the game goes,” said Mr. Baldwin, who steered Ateneo to four titles in the last five UAAP seasons.

Adamson and Ateneo split the season series with the former winning Round 1 in overtime, 74-71, and the latter getting payback in the heated second duel that ignited questions on UAAP officiating, 62-58.

They’ll settle it once and for all this time and only one will be left standing to complete the Final Four. — John Bryan Ulanday