While pundits feel Sunday’s much-awaited clash between National University and De La Salle University might serve as a preview of the UAAP Season 79 Finals, Bulldogs coach Eric Altamirano begged to disagree.
Instead, the soft-spoken Altamirano stressed “it’s too early” to make such a conclusion just two weeks into the men’s basketball season.
So far, La Salle, bannered by dominant Cameroon import Ben Mbala, has lived up to its lofty billing, having won its first three matches in convincing fashion.
In fact, the Green Archers have been nothing short but spectacular, including their latest win, a 100-62 demolition over host University of Santo Tomas Growling last Wednesday.
But not to be outdone is National U, the 2014 UAAP men’s champion, which also took care of business in its first two matches.
Altamirano though humbly admitted the Bulldogs will come in their 2 p.m. collision as the decided underdogs against the Green Archers.
“Obviously, they’re (Green Archers) very powerful in all positions. Kaya kailangan we have to prepare well. It’s good that we have more time to prepare against them,” he said.
Defense will be the overriding theme since both La Salle and NU have emerged as the most solid teams defensively so far.
The Green Archers, behind Aldin Ayo’s “Mayhem” defense, have made life miserable for their rivals, limiting their opponents down to just 70.3 points per contest.
And in its last two victories over University of the Philippines and UST, La Salle enjoyed an average winning margin of 28 points, while forcing an average of 36.5 turnovers per game.
The Green Archers, however, will be tested further by the Bulldogs, who have allowed their last two opponents to score just 63 markers.
National U, fresh from a one-week respite, is expected to lean mainly on 2014 Finals MVP Alfred Aroga, veteran gunner J-Jay Alejandro, former La Salle big man Matt Salem, guard Rev Diputado and wingman Reggie Morido.
Out to foil them are the 6-foot-7 Mbala, ace forward Jeron Teng, guards Thomas Torres, Andrei Caracut, big men Prince Rivero and former NU Bullpup Justine Baltazar. – Jerome Lagunzad
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