This early, all the intensity and the hype are being given to the most anticipated match-up in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tourney.
And it’s not among the pair of matches—University of the Philippines against Adamson or host University of Santo Tomas versus Ateneo—during the opening day on September 4 at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Neither the ‘Blue vs. Green’ rivalry between new-look Ateneo and powerhouse La Salle on October 2 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The early collision between defending champion Far Eastern U and reloaded La Salle set on September 7 at the Mall of Asia Arena is already gaining momentum, with league officials and fans already anticipating nothing less than a blockbuster showdown between the league’s heavyweights.
More than three weeks after their tuneup match inside The Arena in San Juan City was prematurely called off due to rising tension and both camps traded accusations, all is not yet lost on La Salle’s first-year coach Aldin Ayo, who came out swinging anew at his FEU counterpart Nash Racela.
“For sure, lahat naman ng ginagawa ng mga teams dito, may purpose. On that particular game, I have told you kung ano ‘yung sa tingin ko ang gusto nilang mangyari doon. They did that with a purpose of course,” said Ayo on Tuesday during the league’s formal press launch where he nearly crossed paths with Racela.
“Hindi ko nagustuhan ‘yung sinabi ni Racela na ‘We’re not going to back down sa La Salle,’” he added. “The mere fact na sinabi niya ‘yan na wala namang nagtatanong sa’yo, iniisip niya ‘yun. Hindi ko nagustuhan ang statement na ‘yun. I mean hindi naman tinatanong pero ‘yun ang sinabi mo, kinakabahan ka du’n.”
Pressed to comment on Ayo’s view, Racela refused to rub it in, saying: “We don’t focus on personalities. We just make sure we’re ready to compete.”
Ayo, who steered Letran to the NCAA men’s cage title in stunning fashion last year, can’t wait to go up against Racela anew.
“I’m excited to play FEU kasi hindi natapos ang tuneup game namin,” he said.
Racela gamely responded, saying: “We’re excited to play every team, but La Salle para din matapos na yung game.”
While Racela joined his fellow coaches in picking the Green Archers as this year’s team-to-beat, Ayo returned tha favor, saying the Tamaraws remain a dangerous force despite losing six vital cogs including their dreaded ‘Big 3’ of Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia and Roger Pogoy due to graduation.
“They’re the defending champs and for me, they’re still the (top) contenders,” he noted. “They have the materials, they have a good coaching staff and you can’t take away the confidence lalo’t kapapanalo mo pa lang. ‘Yung camaraderie and bonding kasi, every time you win, nag-e-enjoy ka sa mga kasama mo.”
Despite the brewing animosity, Ayo said it’s all part of the game.
“It’s competition and it’s basketball. There’s always sportsmanship,” he said. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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