For only the third time in the league’s history, the PBA Developmental League title will be fought by two school-based teams.
The 2015 PBA D-League Foundation Cup champions, the Cafe France-Centro Escolar University Bakers, and the Phoenix-Far Eastern University Accelerators clash for the 2016 PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup on Thursday, March 31 at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
The Bakers are eyeing back-to-back titles following their 2015 Foundation Cup conquest last season and coach Egay Macaraya firmly believes that his squad has what it takes to snare the title anew.
“Nag-champion na yung mga bata and I think they’re matured enough para maglaro ng crucial games,” Macaraya said after the Bakers swept the Tanduay Rhum Masters, 72-63.
However, not working in Cafe France’s favor is the slew of injuries which has struck the squad, noting Mar Villahermosa, Paul Zamar, and Samboy de Leon are all playing hurt.
“Kami pa rin ang underdog,” said Macaraya. “Ang Phoenix kasi alam naman natin na UAAP champion sila. Kami, we have 11 CEU players here.”
However, Accelerators coach Eric Gonzales begs to differ. “Sana mag-backfire sa kanila,” he said. “I’ll take what he said kasi mahirap yung magpapa-dehado ka pero alam mong llamado ka talaga, lalo na walang makapigil sa import nila.”
Gonzales said that stopping Congolese big man Rod Ebondo should be the main priority for Phoenix-FEU, saying, “Yun ang challenge dahil wala kaming import. How were going to limit Ebondo kasi di sya napapagod. Medyo dehado kami doon.”
And it doesn’t stop there, as he knows that the Bakers are no easy opponent.
“This team is very smart defensively. Yung guards nila, lahat madiin lumaro,” said Gonzales during the post-game of their shocking sweep of Caida. “Dito mate-test yung pagiging tough namin. It’s going to be a battle of toughness.”
Ebondo had 26 points and 19 rebounds in Cafe France’s 83-74 win over an injury-riddled Phoenix-FEU squad in the eliminations last March 3.
With Phoenix-FEU having a complete and healthy line-up while Cafe France-CEU is hampered by injuries, the tides have turned.
Tip-off of Game 1 of the best-of-5 Finals series will be at 3:00 p.m.