The finals rematch between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the UP Fighting Maroons will serve as a fitting finale to the first round of UAAP Season 82, which has been one of the craziest and most unpredictable in recent years.
The Battle of Katipunan has always been one of the most hyped matchups, but it's no longer just because of the schools' proximity to each other. It's now a legitimate showdown of the league's leading contenders that feature some of the best collegiate players in the country.
Both teams are riding on hot streaks heading into Sunday's highly-anticipated game, but the way they got the wins that propelled them to the top of the standings have been very different.
The Blue Eagles began their three-peat quest in commanding fashion. They remain the only undefeated team after six outings, with an incredible winning margin of 14.33 points. They have shown very few chinks in their armor defensively as they limit their opponents to a league-best 59 points.
Although they appear invincible, Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin knows that their field goal shooting (36.83 percent), especially from 3-point range (22.11 percent), can still improve.
"It's moving at a worm's pace but in the right direction from game to game," Baldwin said about their shooting. "We need to hit on all cylinders. We don't want to run offenses where we have to go to a certain player to get points. We believe that all of our players should develop their skills to the ability that we can give them the ball and they can score."
The Fighting Maroons, on the other hand, have engaged in a lot of tight battles, often escaping by the skin of their teeth. They got away by a single point in three of their five wins, including an overtime thriller against the Adamson Soaring Falcons.
UP head coach Bo Perasol believes they are still in the process of finding their cohesion on offense, which usually tends to click only towards the endgame.
"A lot still has to improve as far as how we are going to deal with our offense. I'm quite sure that we're decent as far as our defense is concerned because, despite the fact that we're missing a lot, we're still able to hold them out," said Perasol. "I wouldn't say that it's easy for us to really come together as far as our offense is concerned. These are guys who are really used to having the ball all the time but we really have to make that sacrifice. As long as we understand what is important and that is the win, a lot of them are willing to sacrifice their personal goals."
As the Blue Eagles and the Fighting Maroons meet for the first time since their finals encounter, Baldwin is expecting a playoff-type atmosphere with supporters from both communities coming out to cheer on their teams.
"I think there will probably be a big crowd for that game. It may be a playoff-type atmosphere," said Baldwin. "But for us, we will approach it as just the next game. We'll go out and play good basketball. I have no idea how UP will approach it, you have to ask them. But for us ... I don't have any different expectation of my team except to come out and play good basketball."
As for Perasol, he knows that the task at hand is a daunting one, but his team is up for the challenge.
"You're going up against a defending champion. They've been battering their opponents by double digits," said Perasol. "They're just an excellent team. I don't know how we're going to deal with that but come Sunday time I'm sure that we will be ready for them."
Can Ateneo's defense hold up against the talented lineup of UP? Or can the Fighting Maroons taint the unblemished record of the defending champions? It's an all-new Battle of Katipunan with the number one spot at stake.