After a classic duel for the UAAP title last year, five-time defending champion Ateneo and University of Santo Tomas are again bracing for another big showdown.
This time, however, they will be fighting for the fourth and last semis berth after National University, Far Eastern University and La Salle secured the first three slots after crucial wins last week.
Interestingly, both teams are sporting similar 7-5 records and have two more games left, including what looks like to be their do-or-die rematch on Sept. 18.
But before thinking of their crucial face-off next week, Ateneo and UST have to hurdle first their next assignments with the Eagles facing the Bulldogs tomorrow while the Tigers of coach Pido Jarencio taking on the Archers on Saturday.
And they have to be at their best form if they want to make their scheduled meeting next week more interesting.
Ateneo coach Bo Perasol knows their next two games will be both critical since it will make or unmake their bid for a six straight championship which is going to be a first for the school in the league.
“It will be an uphill climb,” said Perasol after the Eagles pulled off a 77-72 win over the slumping University of the East Warriors.
“That was a big win for us, but what I told them is that we just equalized with UST. But this was a necessary win, a win that we needed to take, wala naman kasing ibang maglalaban dun, kami lang,” said Perasol, who watched the game in the locker room while serving a one-game suspension for confronting a La Salle fan lasat week.
While Perasol was all praises for his players, he also knows the games against NU and UST will test their character.
“The good thing about my players is that they want to be there. We don’t have many edge, yung next two games namin may imports (Emmanuel Mbe for NU and Karim Abdul for UST), mis-match kami lagi sa mga bigs.
“We cannot relax sa mga ginagawa naming sa depensa. Bottomline is if we really want it, we need to work for it. Whatever it takes, kailangan manalo, wala namang ibang option e.”
Jarencio sees a tough showdown with the Archers so his challenge for his players is to treat their remaining games as a championship series.
The Archers are on a roll, having won their sixth straight game at the expense of the Bulldogs, 57-55, last Sunday.
The win was a huge one for La Salle, but Jarencio remains undaunted, knowing his players have also regained their fiery form which they affirmed by winning their last two games.