Ateneo and La Salle legends reveal tales of heated rivalry

ABS-CBN Sports on Dec 03, 2016 04:01 AM
Ateneo and La Salle legends reveal tales of heated rivalry
Former Ateneo and La Salle stars share their thoughts and stories on their heated rivalry ahead of the UAAP Finals.

The long, storied matchup between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the De La Salle Green Archers in the UAAP Men's Basketball Tournament is incomparable to any other in the history of Philippine sports.

With both teams already established in the collegiate ranks, having eight championship titles to their respective programs since joining the UAAP, the historically heated rivalry is about to add another chapter as the two squads hailing from Katipunan and Taft face off for the fifth time starting tomorrow, 

To put things into perspective, the Blue Eagles won their titles in 1987, 1988, 2002, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and in 2012.

While the Green Archers won it all in 1989, 1990, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2007, and 2013.

The teams faced off in the Finals four times, in 1988, 2001, 2002, and 2008 but the Katipunan-based squad holds the advantage, beating the guys from Taft in three of the championship matchups.

In their first UAAP Finals meeting in 1988, Olsen Racela, then point guard for Ateneo, recalled the unprecedented physicality of play that set the stage for their long-standing rivalry.

"Grabe yung finals na yun," Racela told ABS-CBN Sports, "first time namin magkita sa Finals ng UAAP at ibang level na talaga. Tingin ko noong time na yon mas physical pa kay sa sa ngayon."

JVee Casio, then a rookie point guard for the runner-up Green Archers back in 2002, echoed the same superlative level of competition as Racela.

"Noong Finals namin noon grabe, lalo yung pressure at intensity compared sa regular games sa elimanations," he said, "mas mahirap, mas physical, lahat na."

Heading into this season, La Salle was heavy favorites to win it all. Having a roster that was praised for being three rotations deep certainly helped in making those predictions come true.

Led by the hulking big man and Most Valuable Player front-runner Ben Mbala, and graduating Jeron Teng, the Archers swept through the eliminations, winning twelve straight games with relative ease.

Then came that fateful day in November, where Ateneo handed La Salle their first loss of the season, in dominating fashion no less.

The Blue Eagles hustled their way to an 83-71 domination of the Green Archers, actively smashing La Salle's hopes of a season sweep.

La Salle was held down to 29% shooting, while Ateneo converted 51% of their buckets.

Teng and Mbala were both held to 18 and 17 points respectively, which are relatively good numbers, unless you look at the dismal output from other La Salle players, which ultimately did them in.

Rookie point guard Aljun Melecio was the only Archer not named Jeron or Benoit who scored in double figures. He had 11 markers.

Former Archers gunner Renren Ritualo, who led the 2001 La Salle team to a championship against Ateneo, believes that in situations that call for the King Archer to take over the game, he should.

"Para sa akin dapat mag-take over si Jeron Teng. Kahit andiyan si Mbala, he will have his numbers. Pero pag crunch time, si Jeron, this his last year, this is his finals."

As for Ateneo, who fought wire-to-wire against a valiant FEU squad in the two-game semifinal series, the lack of a clear-cut superstar only showed their relentless heart under former Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin.

So when two teams with the rivalry and intensity of La Salle and Ateneo face off, emotions can't help but pour into the court. As former Blue Eagle Chris Tiu, the point guard for the 2008 champion squad attests: "Sometimes it can bring out the violent emotions on the court, we've seen that in the past."

But he also shares how the best players can shine under pressure.

"It can bring out the best also because of the pressure of whats at stake, the players really give their best. And sometimes they play their best games during these types of games."

Tiu admits that he expects this Finals series to be "really emotional, really heated."

And with an ongoing rivalry waiting to add another exciting chapter to its story, we should be nothing but excited.

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