Even without suspended coach Aldin Ayo and injured star wingman Jeron Teng, La Salle remains a perplexing puzzle to solve for its archival Ateneo.
Ateneo coach Sandy Arespocachaga immediately dismissed the notion that the Blue Eagles are now favored to put one over the Green Archers in their anticipated UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball showdown on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena, with La Salle missing the services of Ayo and Teng.
Ayo will serve a one-game suspension that merited his ejection in La Salle’s 84-78 victory over University of the East last Wednesday while the 6-foot-2 Teng will also won’t be able to suit up since he underwent a Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy on Friday night to remove bone spurs on his left heel, putting him on the freezer for at least a week.
But that doesn’t mean the Green Archers have become an easy task for the Blue Eagles.
“La Salle still is the favored team. They are that strong,” Arespacochaga told FOX Sports in an SMS message.
Despite the absence of Teng, who’s been averaging more than 16 points in the Green Archers’ first six victories, Arespacochaga feels La Salle remains a formidable force to be reckoned with behind the presence of Cameroon import Ben Mbala, veterans Abu Tratter, Kib Montalbo, Thomas Torres, Andrei Caracut and Prince Rivero.
And without Ayo, the Green Archers’ think-tank will be led by top deputy Louie Gonzales, former pro league mentor Siot Tanquingcen and Glenn Capacio.
“La Salle has a very deep bench to make up for Jeron not playing. And they have a formidable and veteran coaching staff who can get the job done,” stressed Arespacochaga.
The Blue Eagles, bundled with defending champion Far Eastern U and National U at second spot with identical 4-2 marks, intend to extend their winning streak to three and close out their first-round campaign on a high note.
“We know we’re the underdogs and they’re favored. We’re raring to play and we’re gonna fight. It’s a very big challenge and we’re looking to win,” stressed Arespacochaga, adding they can’t look past the other battles ahead.
“There’s no guarantee that the weaker team will end up losing. We can’t say that if we win, that will define our season. It’s still a long way to go,” he said. – By Jerome Lagunzad