THREE-peat seeking Ateneo de Manila hangs on to its main target in the 73rd UAAP season despite absorbing upsets from unscathed Far Eastern University in season opener and archrival De La Salle last week.

Sixth-year mentor Norman Black assured media that the Blue Eagles will redeem themselves by venting their ire on a retooled National University (NU) today (Saturday), 4 p.m., at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.

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Talking to reporters after losing to a rookie-laden Green Archers, Black said his players will do better this time especially in bucking end game slips.

“We have done a very good job over the years of bouncing back from losses so I don’t see any difference...but mostly, these players have championship experience so I don't expect them to just roll over and die. I expect them to bounce back,” he said.

La Salle ended a six-game losing streak to Ateneo since the first round of Season 71 when sophomore Samuel Joseph Marata buried back-to-back triples in less than two minutes of play to ignite the defensive rally of the Green Archers.

Marata, who ended up being last week’s best player, finished with 12 markers, nine of which came from the outside, four rebounds and two assists while teammate Joshua Webb produced 12 points as well.

But even with the loss, Black gladly swallowed the bitter pill together with the wounded Blue Eagles, who squandered a nine-point cushion in the fourth quarter set up by bigman Justin Chua.

“Things such as not picking up your man on fastbreaks, not following around screens and giving up wide open three-point shots. Those are the things we need to improve on in our next game,” he said.

The Blue Eagles might see themselves on a rocky tiff with NU, which is just fresh from a nail-biting loss to the University of Santo Tomas last Thursday.

NU will be leaning anew to forward Jewel Ponferrada, Melvin Baloran and Cameroonian center Emmanuel Mbe who registered 10 points, 14 rebounds and a block in a losing cause against UST.

Ateneo, for its part, have to rely on the leadership of Eric Salamat, slotman Nico Salva, Chua and diminutive guard Eman Monfort, who played well against La Salle but was forced to sit on the bench after complaining of cramps.

The 4 p.m. square off between the Bulldogs and the Blue Eagles was originally scheduled on Sunday but the UAAP approved NU’s request to move the games earlier as the school celebrates its 110th anniversary on August 1.

Ateneo is currently at solo fifth place (2-2), full game behind La Salle and University of Santo Tomas (3-2).

Meantime, an equally exciting match will unfold at 2 p.m. as fans from the University of the Philippines and the University of the East expect a showdown between two teams raring to join the win column.

The Fighting Maroons, under the tutelage of consultant Boyet Fernandez, dropped its first four games in the tournament including a 94-70 rout by FEU last July 25.

Last year’s losing finalist UE, on the other hand, blew its eight-year domination over NU last week after suffering a 63-70 defeat. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)