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UAAP Finals Preview: Ateneo vs. La Salle

Ben Mbala, center, may be the barometer of dominance in the paint, but Isaac Go, left, is making a late case that he can also be a force to reckon with. (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

THE dream is now a reality.

After eight years, the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry will spill to the best-of-three finals beginning on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

So what's in store for the latest chapter of this college basketball rift that has now even gone to the likes of volleyball and baseball?

History: Like I mentioned, it was in 2008 where both the Blue Eagles and the Green Archers made the finals with the former winning by a 2-0 sweep. However, this is the first time since 2013 that either of the two made the last dance especially with the renaissance of FEU and the rise of NU and UST.

What Now: La Salle entered the finals in just the first year of Coach Aldin Ayo and even came close to sweeping the eliminations. However, Nov. 5 happened. Ateneo, under Coach Sandy Arespacochaga's helm with the help of Consultant Tab Baldwin, walloped La Salle, 83-71, to deal the latter its one and only loss of the eliminations. However, while the Archers only needed one game to eliminate the Adamson Soaring Falcons in the Final Four, the Eagles barely escaped a deja vu of 2000 and oust the FEU Tamaraws, leading to the "dream finals".

Key Match-Up: Ben Mbala vs. Isaac Go-While Mbala can dominate his match-up against Go on paper, one should realize Go is actually on a roll in the past games, especially in Game 2 against FEU on Wednesday, leading the way for the team in saving its season and even bucking off some bleeding in his nose after a collision late in the game. This proves that he will not back down on Mbala.

What to Watch Out: Since everyone is aware of what the Ateneo coaching setup really looks like, let's leave this here. Baldwin is a former national team coach, while Ayo became a sensation last year thanks to Letran's "House of Chaos". Now that the "House" has moved from the northern side of Taft to the southern side and that the former Gilas boss is now tasked to develop future national team stars from Loyola Heights, this will boil down to whose tactics will rule.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno