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MANILA, Philippines — There are no clear-cut favorites when the top four teams battle it out in the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball semifinals.
University of the Philippines and Ateneo collide much earlier this time after meeting in the finals of the last two seasons.
Also this time, the Maroons hold the No. 1 spot while the defending champion Blue Eagles had to go through a playoff for the fourth seed just to advance.
No. 2 La Salle, meanwhile, heads to the Final Four as the hottest team in the league.
Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Green Archers clash with the third-seeded National University Bulldogs in their own semifinal pairing.
Both UP and La Salle hold a twice-to-beat semifinal advantage.
Here’s a lookback on the top four teams’ journey to the Final Four, before action kicks off on Saturday, November 25. (SCHEDULE: UAAP Season 86 basketball)
UP Fighting Maroons (12-2)
The UP Fighting Maroons, historically seen as bottom feeders of the tournament, have shed that label in the last couple of years as they look to enter their third straight championship series as the top overall seed.
Despite injuries to numerous key players, the team achieved the league’s best record behind the leadership of team captain CJ Cansino, who averaged 12.5 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Reigning Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf also delivered consistent plays, norming 12.1 ppg and 13.2 rpg.
Coached by Goldwin Monteverde, the team remains deep, and even got bolstered by young standouts like Ateneo transferee Francis Lopez.
La Salle Green Archers (11-3)
After missing the Final Four in three of the last four seasons, La Salle regained its lofty league status behind MVP frontrunner Kevin Quiambao and first-year coach Topex Robinson.
Quiambao, a versatile point-forward with a penchant for fancy passes, logged two triple-doubles in a two-week span to make league history as the lone player to pull off the feat.
The 6-foot-7 star poured in 16.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 6.0 apg, and 1.9 steals per game to power the Green Archers to an eight-game winning streak and a sweep of the second round.
Playing just his second season, Quiambao is also projected to become the first local MVP since Kiefer Ravena in 2015.
Aside from the 22-year-old, veterans Evan Nelle and Mark Nonoy also came through this season, delivering a combined average of 20.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, and 8.0 apg.
The Green Archers’ impressive turnaround also hinged on a key stat – they boast of the league’s most explosive offense at 80.6 ppg, just a shade above UP (80.1 ppg).
Robinson, who steered San Sebastian and Lyceum to successful programs in the NCAA, now looks to replicate that success in the UAAP.
NU Bulldogs (10-4)
For the second consecutive year, NU stumbled in the late stretch of the eliminations. But the Bulldogs did more than enough work early in the season to still secure a semifinal berth.
NU faced a litany of injury setbacks during the eliminations, with center Mark Padrones (facial fracture) and Steve Nash Enriquez (dislocated jaw) among the key losses for the team coached by former Bulldogs star Jeff Napa.
Veteran Jake Figueroa led the team in scoring with 12.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, and 1.6 apg.
Second-year player Kean Baclaan followed suit with 10.6 points, 4.4 rpg, and 1.5 apg.
Ateneo Blue Eagles (7-7)
Ateneo had to go through a playoff for the first time, needing to dispatch Adamson in sudden death for the fourth seed just to advance to the semifinals.
But the defending champions still have their backs against the wall as the Blue Eagles face a twice-to-beat disadvantage against UP – meaning, they have to beat the No. 1 Maroons in two straight games to return to the finals.
As they face their finals opponents for the third straight season – even with the title not on the line this time – expect Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin to whip up a solid game plan against their neighborhood rivals.
The Blue Eagles paraded a young and inexperienced team this year led by Kai Ballungay, who averaged 11.9 ppg and 8.1 rpg.
Foreign student-athlete Joseph Obasa (10.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg), and Chris Koon (10.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.7 apg) made big contributions as well.
Mason Amos, who was heralded even before stepping inside the UAAP court following his notable Gilas Pilipinas stint, also started to pick up his game by the second round.
It will be another unpredictable matchup as Ateneo and UP split their elimination-round meetings this season. – Rappler.com