(STAR) By Abac Cordero -A mad, mad scramble for the No. 2 spot is expected in the 70th UAAP season.

And to avoid getting stuck in the mud, Ateneo should leave nothing to chance when it plays, and hopes to beat National University at the close of the elimination round on Saturday.

Ateneo is currently tied for second with La Salle at 9-4, and can clinch the No. 2 spot and the twice-to-beat edge if it beats NU, and La Salle loses to unbeaten UE on Thursday.

If UE completes the sweep, it goes straight into the finals and negates the Final Four format. Team Nos. 3 and 4 will figure in a knockout match for the right to face the No. 2 team.

“Our focus now is on National University. We only beat them by one point in the first round but that’s all I need. We won’t take them lightly,” said Blue Eagles coach Norman Black.

Ateneo, last year’s losing finalist, beat La Salle in a classic ballgame last Sunday, only sealing it with a triple from Chris Tiu in the final 17.8 seconds, and a La Salle basket that was nullified at the buzzer.

A loss would have given La Salle the No. 2 spot regardless of what happens in the coming days.

“But this victory would mean nothing if we come back and lose to NU on Saturday,” said Black, hoping to carry the Blue Eagles to a second straight finals appearance on his third year as coach.

La Salle now has no choice but to beat UE, deny the Warriors a sweep, and force a possible one-game playoff with Ateneo for No. 2. Whoever wins, these two teams will square off in the Final Four.

“That’s not our problem anymore,” Black added of La Salle falling into a must-win situation against UE, which dealt the Green Archers a 20-point beating in the first round.

Theoretically, as commissioner Ed Cordero said, a three-way tie for second might even take place among Ateneo, La Salle and defending champion Santo Tomas.

This would happen if Ateneo and La Salle drop their final assignments, and Santo Tomas, last year’s Cinderella team, ousts FEU. This will create a three-way tie for second at 9-5.

In this case, the team with the highest quotient automatically gets the No. 2 spot, and the two others will square off with the winner staying alive in the race to the finals.

Meanwhile, La Salle coach Franz Pumaren knows the pressure of trying to complete a dream sweep of the two-round elims.

It could be the reason why his brother Dindo’s University of the East Warriors are starting to slow down in their last three games after blowing away their rivals in their first 10 games.

“The pressure is really great, I know,” said Pumaren recalling what happened five years ago when they raced to 13-0 only to drop their last game to no less than arch rival Ateneo, which went on to claim the crown.

Franz, however, said he won’t be giving Dindo any advice.

“I won’t advise him (Dindo) of anything because if I do, he might just beat me,” said Franz.

The last squad to achieve a rare title sweep was University of Santo Tomas 14 seasons ago.

“I know it’s history in the making for my younger brother,” said Pumaren. “But it’s just basketball and we have to beat them, nothing personal.” – With report from Joey Villar

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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