Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin declared boldly that Ateneo de Ma-nila is a better team this season compared to last year when De La Salle University swept them in the best-of-three University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball finals.
Though the top seed Ateneo had a difficult route going to Season 80 finals, Baldwin said his wards displayed maturity and resilience after Far Eastern University pushed them to the limit.
“We’re a better team, as simple as that. We’ve proven that we’re a better team all year long. And I think apart from one big offensive lapse one period against La Salle, we’ve proven as good as they are,” said Baldwin minutes after leading the Blue Eagles to an 88-84 overtime thriller over the Tamaraws to arrange the championship showdown against the Green Archers.
Baldwin added that the coaching staff needs to position Ateneo strategically against La Salle in Game 1 on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena, as the latter has the luxury of a longer preparation time.
And they need to continue moving forward in chasing the ultimate goal and put the big victory over FEU behind them.
“I think the coaching staff has to set the tone and have come down from the cloud pretty quick. Get our focus on the next game because we didn’t play this season just to win in the semis,” the American-Kiwi said.
“We played this season to go as far as this team is capable of going.”
If not for Isaac Go’s missed shot in their second-round loss to La Salle, the Blue Eagles could have been in the finals earlier while the Green Archers will enter the last stage with tired bodies.
But Baldwin and the Blue Eagles do not want to dwell on that missed opportunity and just look on the positives that could give them the advantage against Ben Mbala and the Green Archers.
“Losing two straight and winning the do-or-die game, I think we have matured as a team,” said Baldwin’s chief deputy Sandy Arespacochaga.
“Now, we have the opportunity again to become champions. We’ll enjoy every moment of it,” the former Blue Eagle forward added.
This will be the sixth time in the UAAP basketball history that the country’s bitter rivals will face in the finals with the Loyola-based cagers holding a 3-2 edge.
They split their elimination matches with Ateneo winning the first encounter, 76-75 before La Salle denied the Blue Eagles of a sweep with a heart-stopping 79-76 victory in their second meeting.