Ateneo-La Salle UAAP Finals preview
by rick olivares
They say that when the two rivals – Ateneo and La Salle – meet, you can throw out all the statistics because they tend to battle on equal footing.
So let’s do exactly that and figure out how this finals series will pan out.
La Salle remains the prohibitive favorite.
The loss to Ateneo in the second round is the only blemish in 15 matches yet the Green Archers are still heavily favored to win it all.
For starters, you aren’t worried whether a player will perform. Even if someone doesn’t, they are stacked deep in every position. Unlike Ateneo where there are questions of consistency, who will deliver today, and the performance of their bigs.
The Green Archers will have learned from watching Ateneo in the second round and what allowed them to reach the finals -- the quicker pace and the willingness to take the battle inside.
How will La Salle stop Ateneo?
Press the Blue Eagle guards. Slow down the tempo. Bump the ball carriers. Harry them. Force them into late shot clock counts. They don’t handle that very well.
The slower pace works in their favor because Ateneo relies heavily on its guards and forwards for penetration and playmaking with not much from the four and five-spot players. They just have to worry about the offensive rebounds and putbacks from the Blue Eagle bigs.
The slower pace means Ateneo will have to deal with multiple layers of defense and La Salle has rim protectors. Yes, the Blue Eagles are one of the best if not the best in blocks. Stopping Ben Mbala is altogether another thing.
La Salle will use their pressure defense to force Ateneo out of its rhythm and play at the pace they want to dictate.
They will try to pound that ball inside and get Isaac Go into trouble because at this point, there are no reliable back-ups. Imagine if they can have Abu Tratter and Prince Rivero scoring inside. Now, how do you double MBala?
They know Ateneo will double team and try to get Mbala out of position. That means leaving people open. Quick ball movement and recognition of the open man is central in beating that double team.
What can Ateneo do to make this a series?
One, rebound and play defense. They must play the style that got them to this stage and not at that dreadfully slow pace they played during the first round. Plus, they need to make better reads on defense.
I am not sure what their team rules are on defense but if the Green Archers are able to get inside, the Blue Eagles should trust teammates to help out and for them to watch for the drop pass and kick out where La Salle likes to make a living as well.
They need to challenge the bigs of La Salle and stop taking too many outside shots. They need to run at every chance and if they can get La Salle’s primary backcourt defenders in foul trouble then that puts a crimp on their full court press.
When the double team is coming, attack it. Force them to back pedal.
Some guys need to produce
If the other bigs – Chibueze Ikeh, Kris Porter, and Vince Tolentino – can hold their own and contribute, that will greatly ease the pressure on their guards and forwards to score. They have to stay out of foul trouble too. That is equally important.
Ateneo needs to get Aaron Black back on track or else La Salle will key their defense to stopping Thirdy Ravena’s drives. Adrian Wong needs to bring his A-game too. Same with Matt Nieto who will run this offense.
When all goes to hell, you still need someone to take that last shot and that’s either going to Thirdy, Adrian, or even Anton Asistio. But if Aaron can find his rhythm, that will boost the Blue Eagles’ chances.
How will this series play out?
Of course, there’s the coaching battle between Ateneo’s Tab Baldwin and La Salle’s Aldin Ayo. That’s a given. Ditto with the adjustments.
However, Ateneo needs to make this a close match for them to have a chance. The second round blowout is an aberration as they are for Ateneo- La Salle match-ups save for this season because of MBala’s dominance. If they can nick Game One from the Archers, they have a chance of pulling the rug under La Salle.
If DLSU takes Game One, I figure it’s over in two.
For La Salle, that’s a culmination of that goal when Mbala became eligible and when head coach Aldin Ayo came over. They are right where they want to be.
For Ateneo, this is already a bonus given where they came from and what they went through in the past seven months.