Titlist Ateneo, UP brace for the final duel of ‘Battle of Katipunan’

UP Fighting Maroons engage in a final duel for the UAAP men’s basketball. — THE UAAP

DYNASTY against destiny will be the name of the game as three-time reigning champion Ateneo and University of the Philippines (UP) engage in a final duel for the prestigious title of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 84 men’s basketball at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City on Friday.

The mighty Blue Eagles and a strong challenger in the Fighting Maroons traded blows in the first two games of the best-of-three series, setting the stage for one last showdown at 6 p.m. with equally high stakes on the line for both squads.

A win by Ateneo, the three-time defending titlist, would extend its reign in the league for a fourth straight season while UP’s triumph would deliver it to the “Promised Land” — at last after 36 long years.

Facing elimination for only the first time in four years after a tough 81-74 overtime loss in Game One, Ateneo showed steady resolve despite another near meltdown by escaping with a narrow 69-66 Game 2 to force a winner-take-all.

This time, coach Tab Baldwin sees no difference as he braces for another down-the-wire combat in the last installment of the fabled “Battle of Katipunan’’ for all the marbles of the unique UAAP tourney under a bubble setting amid the pandemic.

“You can’t really separate these two teams very much from one another so I think Game Three is going to be potentially an epic game. We’re excited that we’re there,” he said as Ateneo and UP sport a 2-2 overall slate this season.

Ateneo scored a 90-81 win in the first round of the eliminations while UP got back with a stinging 84-83 win in the second round that also denied the former a 14-0 sweep and ticket straight trip to the finals.

“Nothing is easy in this series. It’s tough and if ever there’s a flip of a coin, Game Three could be that,” added Mr. Baldwin, crediting the wonders of debuting collegiate coach Goldwin Monteverde for UP.

UP, which also ended Ateneo’s 39-game, three-year winning streak, expects the same airtight duel with the working formula so far to topple its good rival’s dynasty.

“The formula in basketball has to be consistent in playing as a team offensively and defensively. We had a slow start last game and our defense was not that tight, but we’re gonna work on it,” said Mr. Monteverde, the former author of National University dynasty in the Philippine high school scene.

“For one thing, the team takes pride. We never give up…” he added as the Fighting Maroons aim to set a date with UAAP destiny for the first time since 1986. — John Bryan Ulanday