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DOGFIGHT — UP, NU stake unbeaten slates, dispute solo lead

REIGNING MVP Malick Diouf tries to hand UP its third straight win against a hard-fighting NU side in a battle of unbeaten teams in the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament.(PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UAAP)

Games today:
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
11 a.m. — Adamson vs Ateneo
1 p.m. — NU vs UP
3 p.m. — UST vs La Salle
5 p.m. — FEU vs UE

Early leaders University of the Philippines and National University put their unblemished records on the line in an explosive showdown in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 86 men’s basketball tournament today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Both sporting pristine 2-0 win-loss slates, only one team will walk off the court unscathed and holding the solo lead after the 1 p.m. encounter in another quadruple-header feature.

The Fighting Maroons have been sending a clear message to the rest of the field of their intention to reclaim the crown they surrendered to Ateneo de Manila University last year with blowout wins in their first two outings.

Reigning Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf has been solid so far for UP, averaging 19.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, 2 assists and 1.0 steal per game in the Fighting Maroons’ 68-51 victory over Adamson University and 84-69 drubbing of University of the East.

CJ Cansino, who is back after skipping last season due to a knee injury, is also making a big impact for the Fighting Maroons who are missing injured guard Terrence Fortea.

But facing a more mature and experienced Bulldogs squad would be a tougher test this time for the Fighting Maroons.

“Coming into the season, we know NU is certainly one of the contenders with that lineup still intact pretty much this season from 85 to 86 and with their new additions, it’s always been a tough team,” UP assistant coach Christian Luanzon said.

“We know how (NU) coach Jeff Napa runs things from his juniors days to seniors so we really have to be ready. We expect a tough game this Saturday.”

Last year’s third placer Bulldogs are also living up to the preseason expectations with their early success.

NU easily crushed defending champion Ateneo in the opener then pulled through against a clingy Far Eastern University side, 71-65, last Wednesday.

“You saw how talented that (UP) team is. And then, well-funded. Just kidding,” Napa said in jest.

But on a serious note, Napa underscores the importance of a strong start and sustaining that momentum. He doesn’t want another near-meltdown just like what happened against the Tamaraws where they almost blew a big lead.

“We can’t afford that coming this Saturday against a very strong team in UP,” he said.

“We always remind them, day in and day out, to have winning mindset. That’s the only way we could compete against the big guns.”

Kean Baclaan, Mike Malonzo, Nash Enriquez and big man Omar John will play a big role in NU’s rematch against its Season 85 semifinals tormentor.

Meanwhile, Ateneo and Adamson meet at 11 a.m. with both teams looking for their second win.

The Blue Eagles outhustled archrival De La Salle University, 77-72, the last time out while the Falcons outlasted University of Santo Tomas in overtime, 70-76.

They both parade 1-1 slates tied with UE and La Salle, which battles winless UST at 3 p.m.

Crossing paths in the main game at 5 p.m. are UE and listless FEU.

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