(MALAYA) BY CHRISTINE MONCADA  (Pumaren convinced Green Archers can bounce back vs Eagles)

ALTHOUGH they negated La Salle’s twice-to-beat advantage with a hard-earned 65-64 win last Thursday, Ateneo coach Norman Black is convinced the Blue Eagles will have to go through the eye of the needle when the two teams clash anew tomorrow for the right to face unbeaten University of the East in the finals of the 70th UAAP men’s basketball tournament.

"We really had a hard time against them (last Thursday), we don’t know why. We’ll know after reviewing the (game) tape," said Black, who improved to 3-1 in his head-to-head duel with La Salle coach Franz Pumaren this season.

The match will be the fifth this season for the two archrivals, with momentum clearly on Ateneo’s side. In 2002, they also battled it out in five tough games, with the Eagles, then coached by Koy Banal, winning the crown after escaping with a hard-earned win in Game 3 of the finals.

Tomorrow’s match, set at 3 p.m. at the Araneta Coliseum, is being billed as the championship appetizer, with the winner earning bragging rights in the two teams’ storied duel.

Although they fell short in their initial bid to forge a best-of-three showdown with the Red Warriors, Pumaren remained convinced they still have what it takes to prevail in the knockout match that he said has turned into a mind game.

"Basketball is more than just physical, it’s also a mind game. We’ll let them guess what we’ll do next. I’m confident we can bounce back," Pumaren stressed.

The winner of tomorrow’s match will have three days to prepare for the finals, which begin on Thursday.

The Red Warriors will go into the finals armed with nearly a three-week respite. They completed a 14-game sweep of the eliminations last Sept. 13, beating the Green Archers 92-84 in overtime.

La Salle has not lost two straight games this season and Pumaren said he and his charges have no intention to waste the twice-to-beat advantage they earned after beating Ateneo in their playoff for the No. 2 slot in the step-ladder semis.

"We’re trying to do something different in each game. We’ll make sure we can adjust to whatever our opponents will do," he said.

Black, whose charges earned the right to challenge La Salle for the second finals berth by ousting University of Santo Tomas last Sunday 69-64, said defense will still be their main weapon.

"We’re going to maintain our defense and hopefully come back a little strong. We also need to figure out a way to break their press," said Black, who will count on Chris Tiu, Eric Salamat, Kirk Long and Ford Arao, among others.

Tiu, a fourth-year guard, scored the game-winner in last Thursday’s match, getting past three defenders on the sideline and scoring on a short stab.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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