Triumphant on its initial task in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tourney, powerhouse La Salle seeks to gain the solo leadership on Saturday when the Green Archers square off with the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Fresh from defeating defending champion Far Eastern U, 83-78, last Wednesday, La Salle will come in their 4 p.m. showdown with UP heavily favored, hoping to break away from an early tie with fellow opening day victors Adamson, Ateneo and National U.
However, La Salle’s first-year coach Aldin Ayo warned the Green Archers not to look past the Fighting Maroons, who’ll be eager to bounce back from an 84-105 setback dealt by the Soaring Falcons over the weekend.
That explains why Ayo wants to see his wards relish the role of being the favorites anew.
“There will always be pressure. We just have to embrace that,” he said.
Expected to lead the way for La Salle are star wingman Jeron Teng and prized Cameroon import Ben Mbala, who’ll be enjoying plenty of support from a solid crew that includes Aljun Melecio, Prince Rivero, Kib Montalbo and spitfire rookie Aljun Melecio.
And UP’s first-year coach Bo Perasol knows exactly what the Fighting Maroons will have to deal with.
“We need to bring our A-game tomorrow. It’s tough to prepare a game plan against a team as dominating as La Salle,” he told FOX Sports in an SMS message.
While they struggled to slow down the Falcons’ hot-shooting from beyond the arc the last time out, the Fighting Maroons will be in for a tougher task on slowing down the 6-foot-7 Mbala inside.
“I don’t think anybody can stop him,” admitted Perasol. “We will just try to minimize his impact on his team.”
Clashing in the opener at 2 o’lock are host University of Santo Tomas and University of the East, both eager to join the winners’ column.
The Growling Tigers fell prey to the Blue Eagles 69-73 last Sunday while the Red Warriors came up short against the Bulldogs 66-72 three days after.
“I want to see the real Red Warriors that I see in practice everyday,” UE coach Derrick Pumaren told FOX Sports. “It is very important how we’ll be able to bounce back tomorrow.” – By Jerome Lagunzad
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