UP shoots for the kill while Ateneo guns for Game 3

BEHIND an ample of heroes led by Zavier Lucero and Harold Alarcon, the Fighting Maroons side despite the limited production of stars Malick Diouf and Carl Tamayo. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ RUSSELL PALMA

Games Wednesday(Smart Araneta Coliseum)6 p.m. — UP vs ATENEO

REIGNING champion University of the Philippines (UP) goes for the jugular against rival Ateneo de Manila University in a potential title clincher in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball finals Game 2 today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Smelling blood after declawing the Blue Eagles in the series opener of the famed Battle of Katipunan, the Fighting Maroons shoot for the kill to finish off the quick race-to-two championship showdown and keep the prestigious crown in Diliman.

Game time is at 6 p.m., with UP — more than retaining the diadem — also sporting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve a bigger feat of hoisting two UAAP titles in just one year amidst the extraordinary time of the pandemic.

But that mission is easier said than done as the wards from Diliman brace for giant mountain to scale just to reach the coveted pinnacle only seven months after winning its first title since 1986 against the same team.

“It’s only one game. We have to focus on the next. We won the first game but we still have more to improve on,” said mentor Goldwin Monteverde, who also has a chance to win two straight titles in as many seasons of his budding collegiate coaching career.

“We know what kind of team Ateneo is. We can’t afford to lower our guards. We have to prepare the same way heading into Game 2.”

UP, using its breathtaking 2-1 win over Ateneo in the epic Season 84 finals to snap 36-year title drought, kept mastery of its archrival with a close 72-66 win in Game 1 to move on the brink of a successful title defense.

Behind an ample of heroes led by Zavier Lucero and Harold Alarcon, the Fighting Maroons side despite the limited production of stars Malick Diouf and Carl Tamayo off the bench took control of the match from the get go — which Ateneo is hoping to neutralize if it is to force a rubber match anew.

“Execution during the whole game was difficult because the pressure from UP was really good. Certainly, we have to figure out ways to compensate for the pressure that they have,” said coach Tab Baldwin, noting the deep UP backcourt led by JD Cagulangan that made Ateneo’s usual flawless offense miserable the whole game.

“You’ve got to find counters. We thought we had some but we need more,” he added.

To do that and stay alive, the Blue Eagles will need ace Dave Ildefonso, who shot three-of-12 from the field, and Kai Ballungay, who went scoreless, to regain their touches in time to backstop Ange Kouame, Forthsky Padrigao and BJ Andrade. — John Bryan Ulanday

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