By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
AN eventful first round of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 80 men’s basketball tournament ends this weekend with all eight competing teams seeing action.
All to be played at the Mall of Asia Arena, first-round UAAP windup games on tap carry varying significance for the combatants.
Saturday action will see tail-ending teams University of the East (UE) Red Warriors (0-6) and University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers (0-6) battle at 2 p.m. to be followed by streaking Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws (4-2) against Adamson Soaring Falcons (4-2) at 4 p.m.
On Sunday, the final day of the first round, the skidding University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons (3-3) and National University (NU) Bulldogs (2-4) collide at 12 noon to be followed at 4 p.m. by the marquee encounter between rivals Ateneo Blue Eagles (6-0) and defending champions De La Salle Green Archers (5-1).
The Warriors and Tigers do battle for pride so as not to finish the first round as the lone team sans a win while at the same time have something to build on heading into the second round.
FEU and Adamson, on the other hand, will stake their respective three-game winning streaks and eyeing a win that will hand them solo third spot in the standings.
The two teams have turned their season around after an iffy start that had them going 1-2 in their first three games.
On the part of UP and NU, they are out to secure a skid-busting victory and end the first round on a positive note after hitting a rough patch of late.
The Maroons have lost back-to-back games after going 3-1 in their first four games, including a gutsy victory over La Salle.
NU, meanwhile, has dropped deeper with three consecutive losses following a promising 2-1 start that has seen it drop outside of the top four.
Sending the first round to a conclusion is Ateneo versus La Salle in a collision of the top teams in Season 80 so far.
The Eagles will put their unbeaten run to date on the line against the Archers who have returned to winning after being tripped midway into the opening round.
Reigning player of the week Chibueze Ikeh will try to lead Ateneo to a sweep of the first round against Ben Mbala and the rest of the Archers.
Mbala, the reigning league most valuable player, had stellar game in their last game against UE, posting numbers of 39 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks.