Matt Nieto: Ateneo’s blowout wins hardly matter vs La Salle
MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles may have an upperhand with an intact core and a four-game blowout winning streak, but the defending champions aren't underestimating their bitter rivals De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers in their first UAAP Season 81 showdown.
"We have to give our 100% effort," Matt Nieto told Rappler. "And kahit blowout [win] yung game namin before nito (versus University of Santo Tomas), ibang game ito – new team, new coach – so ibang iba yung laro na ito."
(Even though our game versus University of Santo Tomas was a blowout win, this is a different game – new team, new coach – so their game plan will be different.)
Since absorbing a shock loss to Adamson in the season opener, the Blue Eagles routed their next 4 opponents by an average winning margin of 23.25 points, the last a 32-point wrecking of the Growling Tigers.
Both Ateneo and La Salle have entertained UAAP fans with back-to-back Finals appearances and each school took one men's basketball title apiece in the last two seasons.
It also did not help that the Green Archers are down to 11 men after losing Kiwi Samuel Taane and captain Kib Montalbo to injuries during the season while absorbing painful losses to Far Eastern University and University of the Philippines.
Even if the Blue Eagles clearly see their advantages over DLSU, they will still remember how their rivals kept up with them during the Filoil preseason tournament as Jollo Go's bucket sent the match into overtime.
Ateneo eventually outlasted the Green Archers as rookie center Angelo Kouame's personal 6-0 run nailed the win.
"We know they have the capabilities to beat us and they showed us that last summer," said Nieto.
"Bilog ang bola (The ball is round). We can't be overconfident and we have to play the Ateneo way and that's unselfish basketball and hard-nosed defense."
The Ateneo playmaker is also excited to play against DLSU's Aljun Melecio, who has been stepping up to become the topscorer of the undermanned team.
But the Green Archers have been showing signs of life again thanks to the efforts of other players like Justine Baltazar, who recorded a career-high of 22 points and 10 rebounds over his former mentor's UST team.
"We have to prepare for him (Melecio) but it's not only him who we have to prepare for," said Nieto.
"We have to treat everyone equally because all of them have the talent and anyone from that team can beat us and outwork us."
The blue and green will clash on Saturday, October 6, 4 pm, at the Mall of Asia Arena. – Rappler.com