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UAAP Finals: Eagles, Tigers eye first blood in best-of-3 duel

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By Kristel Satumbaga

Games Saturday

(Smart Araneta Coliseum)

12 noon – UST vs FEU (women’s)

4 p.m. – UST vs Ateneo (men’s)

UST's Soulemane Chabi Yo, right, reaches for the loose ball against Ateneo's Ange Kouame, left, and Will Navarro during the first round of UAAP Season 82 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, October 5, 2019. Defending champion Ateneo and UST seek to draw first blood in their best-of three titular showdown Saturday. (MB File Photo / Rio Deluvio)

UST’s Soulemane Chabi Yo, right, reaches for the loose ball against Ateneo’s Ange Kouame, left, and Will Navarro during the first round of UAAP Season 82 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, October 5, 2019. Defending champion Ateneo and UST seek to draw first blood in their best-of three titular showdown Saturday. (MB File Photo / Rio Deluvio)

It will be the Tigers in the Eagles’ shadow when the UAAP Season 82 Finals fire off Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Defending champion Ateneo, which swept the eliminations, and University of Santo Tomas, a survivor of the cutthroat stepladder semifinals, begin the best-of-3 championship series at 4 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Eagles are coming off a 16-day rest after a dominant show in the 14-game eliminations that propelled them straight to the finals. The Tigers, on the other hand, are coming off a clinching 68-65 victory over the University of the Philippines Maroons last Wednesday.

Ateneo did not waste time preparing for its three-peat campaign by holding tuneup matches against reigning NCAA champion San Beda and pro team Talk ‘N Text.

Prior to the break, Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said he is confident his players will return to the court with the same intensity they showed in the eliminations.

“I don’t have any doubt that we will fall off our game,” he said. “There’s an argument that those games (in the stepladder semifinals) will keep our opponent sharp and fresh, but we’ll be sharp.

“We’re healthy, we’re strong. We don’t back off to any of our work because it works.”

On paper, the Eagles are fancied in the matchup after sweeping the Tigers in the elims 71-70 and 66-52.
Ateneo could expect a different UST squad though.

Seeded fourth in the semis, the Tigers outplayed Far Eastern University before edging the Maroons twice for their first finals appearance in four years.

Though the finals trip was already an accomplishment for the young team, UST coach Aldin Ayo sees differently.

“Wala pa kaming naa-achieve,” he said. “This is not our main goal. So we have to refocus and prepare for our next game.”

Expect a thrilling matchup between last year’s Rookie of the Year Ange Kouame for Ateneo and this season’s Most Valuable Player Soulemane Chabi Yo of UST, who will man the pain for their teams.

Two-time MVP Thirdy Ravena will also pace Ateneo along with SJ Belangel, Will Navarro and Matt Nieto.

Leading UST, meanwhile, will be Renzo Subido, Rhenz Abando and Mark Nonoy.

Game 2 will be on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena while Game 3, if necessary, will be on Nov. 23 at the same venue.

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