By CARLO ANOLIN
Dynasty or destiny?
Expect fireworks and another mammoth crowd as reigning champion Ateneo and University of the Philippines lock horns in the finale of the blockbuster “Battle of Katipunan” series Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Tipoff is at 6 p.m. with the Blue Eagles expecting to ride the crest of their pulsating Game 2 victory in the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball.
Certainly, Ateneo’s 69-66 victory on Wednesday – thanks largely to the efforts of Season 84 Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, and Tyler Tio – would give the Eagles the needed motivation to go all the way and complete their mission.
The Eagles, however, should take note that the Maroons have yet to lose back-to-back games this season and they are determined to stay that way.
UP drew first blood in the series, pulling off a gutsy 81-74 overtime win as James Spencer, Zavier Lucero, Carl Tamayo, and Ricci Rivero connived in a blazing finish.
The Maroons, hoping to end their 36-year UAAP title drought, also dealt the Eagles back-to-back losses since their last elimination round game on Labor Day.
The Diliman-based Maroons eked out an 84-83 win to snap Ateneo’s amazing 39-match win streak that started in October 2018.
For Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin though, everything is just a thing of the past now as Ateneo is out to rewrite history in pursuit of a four-peat since winning the UAAP title in Season 80.
After all, it’s now or never for both the top squads.
“Heading into Game 3, we have to put everything that happened in Game 2 behind us now,” said Baldwin. “We have a whole new challenge in front us so whatever work we did, whatever sacrifices we made in the last few days — and they were significant — we should be expecting facing the same thing [in Game 3].”
The Eagles rely on a tight core in Kouame, who proved why he was a deserving Season’s MVP.
Good thing Ildefonso got his offensive rhythm back after a so-so showing in Game 1 while SJ Belangel rediscovered his wits and craftiness, and the veteran presence of Tio and Gian Mamuyac.
The Maroons should forget the misfortune that befell them in the endgame if they are to raise their second championship. It happened when Ricci Rivero took too long to cross the ball over its side when they were racing against time as they trailed, 69-65.
He managed to fish out a foul with 2 seconds left, made the first gift shot before intentionally missing the second shot in the hopes of getting an offensive rebound for a quick conversion. But it did not materialize as Ildefonso secured the board.
UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde took responsibility for that last play and vowed to bounce back and learn from that costly error.
“Kung ano mga mali, ano mga lapsesm alam namin na doon kami mag-i-improve and definitely we’re gonna work on it,” said the multi-titled juniors’ champion coach. “Kahit nga ‘yong pagitan ng game would be one day lang, but we still talk about things and really work hard for it.”