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Blue Eagles, Falcons duel in do-or-die for last UAAP semis seat

MANILA, Philippines – Reigning champion Ateneo and Adamson lock claws in a knockout derby to dispute the fourth and last ticket in the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament Final Four Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Game time is at 2 p.m., with the Eagles and the Falcons gunning for each other’s necks for the right to face leader University of the Philippines in the semifinals that also feature No. 2 La Salle and third-running National University in the other bracket.

Prior to that, seven-peat champion NU shores up its title defense against No. 4 Ateneo at 9 a.m. followed by the duel between second-ranked Santo Tomas and No. 3 University of the Philippines at 11 a.m. in the women’s Final Four. NU and University of Santo Tomas sport win-once bonuses.

But the spotlight, for now, is on the Eagles and the Falcons, who got dragged into a playoff after similar 7-7 slates at the end of the two-round eliminations.

The stars aligned for Adamson in a wild development over the weekend just to stay alive in the race after Ateneo’s costly 72-69 loss against La Salle for its seventh loss.

Then still at 6-7, the Falcons took care of the bargain by eclipsing the also-ran UE Warriors on Matthew Montebon’s game-winning trey, 63-61, to catch the Eagles at fourth place.

With yet another chance against all odds including the absence of ace guard Jerom Lastimosa due to season-ending ACL injury, Nash Racela urges his wards to continue braving on in a bid to replicate its stellar feat last season.

“There are no freebies in this world. We have to earn everything. You have to take it if you want it,” said Racela, whose wards led by Lastimosa in Season 85 escaped with a thrilling 80-76 win against La Salle in the knockout match to make it to the semis. Now, Adamson has another big gun in Ateneo as its hurdle.

“Now, we’re here and that’s all we want, right? To get a crack at that final four. Because Adamson also deserves to be there, right?”

Standing in their way are the charges of Tab Baldwin, who are out to prove that they’re still the reigning UAAP kings for a reason despite needing to work their way up from an uncharted territory.

“I hope we get in. That’s the biggest thing.