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UE vs NU in finals? UAAP coaches pick Warriors, Bulldogs as top contenders

By Josiah Albelda Posted Jun 26th 2013

National University and University of the East were tagged as men's seniors basketball favorites by the head coaches during the UAAP 76 press conference.

How about a finals matchup between National University and University of the East?

It might not be a blockbuster in the lines of the past few UAAP championship battles, but coaches of the teams participating in Season 76 agree that both the Bulldogs and the Red Warriors have what it takes to go all the way.

With five-peat champion Ateneo de Manila University decimated by graduation and injuries, upstart squads like NU and UE, along with 2012 finalist University of Santo Tomas, are pegged to be surefire Final Four contenders.

Coaches of these squads know that the proverbial target is now on their backs and the Bulldogs, for one, are embracing it.

"We're humbled and grateful for getting the tag of 'team-to-beat,'" said NU coach Eric Altamirano. "Like I told the players, we have to embrace it. If there's a year we can do it, this is the year.

The Bulldogs placed third last season, and with the core led by two-time MVP Ray Parks returning for what could be his last year in Sampaloc, the Gold and Blue are tipped to be one of the strongest contenders this year.

Meanwhile, coach Boycie Zamar continued to downplay their triumphant run in the 2013 FilOil Flying V Premier Cup, saying that the reality is the UAAP and that his Warriors placed a measly seventh in 2012.

"We're flattered, but we cannot be contented," he said, noting that the real wars begin on Saturday and not on paper.

After replacing Jerry Codinera midway through Season 75, Zamar has steered the Warriors to a respectable record, even scalping the Blue Eagles in one game before continuing their ascent up the charts with their preseason title.

Cat-quick Roi Sumang is back with a vengeance and has emerged as arguably the best point guard in the UAAP today. He will be backstopped by big men Charles Mammie and Adrian Santos and shooters JR Sumido, Pong Galanza and Ralf Olivares.

UE's sudden rise to fame overshadowed both the Growling Tigers and De La Salle University -- two teams once touted to be shoo-ins for the Season 76 finals.

But both squads are definitely no pushovers and possess rock-solid rosters that would surely be in contention from Day One.

For UST, coach Pido Jarencio will rely on the quartet of Karim Abdul, Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano and gun-slinger Jeric Teng to bring the trophy to the Tigers' lair after falling short last year.

"Basta ako, sigurado ako na box office hit ang UST ngayon," Jarencio said. "UST: Una Sa Takilya."

Meanwhile, coach Juno Sauler, installed just this month to replace Gee Abanilla at the Archers' helm, chose to kept his cards close to his chest and simply said that the league is more balanced this year.

His team, though, wouldn't lack in firepower, with explosive guards like LA Revilla, Thomas Torres and Almond Vosotros back to team up with big men Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal and Jason Perkins to provide support for King Archer Jeron Teng.

Not to be forgotten is six-peat-seeking Ateneo, who, despite losing Nico Salva and Greg Slaughter to graduation, is still armed with the all-important championship experience and ultra-talented guard Kiefer Ravena.

Blue Eagles coach Bo Perasol, however, said his team's chances hinge on their health.

"If we can stay 100% healthy throughout the season, then we can defend the title," he said. "But we will play to our full potential and they should expect us to play 100% all the time."

For Adamson, the theme will be reloading.

After seeing Alex Nuyles and Eric Camson leave the UAAP, coach Leo Austria will be leaning on star wingman Jericho Cruz and able big men Rodney Brondial and Ingrid Sewa.

"This season will be an exciting one," Austria shared. "Any team can beat any team."

University of the Philippines' Ricky Dandan echoes the same sentiment, adding that even if his Fighting Maroons will be rebuilding for the nth time, they will play every game with the sense of urgency needed to win.

"The fighting is back in the Maroons," he stressed. We are the underdogs but we will take every teams as a team we want and we need to beat."