Facing a winless team for the second straight game, there is one thing that the unbeaten University of the Philippines (UP) will not feel going into its match against University of Santo Tomas (UST).
“ ‘Comfortable’ is a word rarely heard in our locker room because no team in this league is a pushover,” said UP assistant coach Christian Luanzon when asked of their coming clash with the Growling Tigers to stay in the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament lead. “It’s very important for us not to take anyone lightly.”
Their game is slated at 4 p.m. at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, and the Maroons are coming out to regain the form they dispatched their first three opponents with, before prevailing, 80-76, over the Far Eastern Tamaraws in overtime on Wednesday.
“What’s challenging about teams like FEU and UST, when you play them, is that they carry their school pride first, and second, the hunger to win is always there,” said Luanzon.
“It’s very important for us not to take anyone lightly, to play with confidence, and at the same time, give our opponents the respect they deserve,” he added.
Santo Tomas, meanwhile, has lost all but one of its first four games in double digits, no thanks to a back injury that has hobbled Adama Faye and limited last year’s rebounding champion to a combined 12 minutes in the Tigers’ first two games.
“We will fight it out hard with what we have,” Santo Tomas coach Pido Jarencio told the Inquirer. “We will wait for his injury to heal, of course. But in the meantime, I am very proud of my players at how they give it their all every game.”
Jarencio and the Tigers will have to deal with a formidable UP frontline led by Malick Diouf and rookie LeBron Lopez, who could pronounce what—or who—is lacking in the Santo Tomas lineup.
Defending champion Ateneo, meanwhile, seeks to stay in top four range when the Blue Eagles—who haven’t won back-to-back games in the young season—tangle with the Tamaraws at 2 p.m.
The Eagles are tied with the Adamson Soaring Falcons and University of the East at fourth place at 2-2.
Coach Tab Baldwin continues to face the challenge of filling the void left by former MVP Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, and BJ Andrade, who played instrumental roles in Ateneo’s championship run last year.
“We ultimately want complete players. We want players who are not a liability at one end of the court,” Baldwin said. “I think every player has at least been tough at one end and doesn’t hurt us at the other end of the floor, and then they grow from there.” INQ