Blue Eagles vow strong comeback

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Ateneo de Manila University head coach Tab Baldwin rued the missed opportunity of clinching the outright finals slot of Season 80 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball competition after losing to archrival De La Salle University on Sunday.

With their 14-game sweep bid foiled, Baldwin said the Blue Eagles are moving on but their goal remains the same—bring the crown back to Loyola.

Ateneo stayed as the top seed despite yielding a 79-76 decision to the Green Archers, the team’s first loss after 13 straight wins in the tournament.

Now, the Blue Eagles have to deal with the dangerous Far Eastern University (FEU) in the Final Four round on Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.

“Things like sweeps and undefeated seasons are things you dream about but you got to leave them behind pretty quick,” said Baldwin, who led the Loyola-based team to a second straight top two finish.

“Even if we win today (Sunday), we got to leave it behind because the golden apple that we’re after is still in front of us. So, you know, what really matters is the next game,” he added.

Baldwin admitted La Salle made a great run in the fourth quarter and his wards failed to counter that rally that led to their downfall.

Up 76-69 with over two minutes remaining, the Blue Eagles allowed their bitter rivals to own the final stretch of the game where Ben Mbala, Ricci Rivero and Kib Montalbo made key plays to steal the victory.

“The fourth quarter, they (La Salle) owned it. That’s a big disappointment for us. That’s been a quarter we’ve done well in this year,” the American-Kiwi mentor said.

Isaac Go could have given Ateneo the lead back but muffed a semi-hook attempt contested by Mbala that turned the tide of the game.

Go, who hit a key triple in the game, took the blame but Baldwin insisted his center made the right play and Mbala just had a great recovery and forced Go to miss the big shot.

“I think he (Go) made the right play. Instead of going straight up with it where Ben has been blocking shots when guys did that, he shot faked,” said Baldwin.

“Then he had a contested shot but I think he made the right shot and he just missed it.”

Luckily, Ateneo has a week to recover from that painful loss and Baldwin expects nothing but a tough grind against the fourth seed Tamaraws in a rematch of Final Four encounter.

“FEU is an outstanding basketball team and they are absolutely worthy semifinalists. We’re gonna have a tough game with them,” said the former Gilas Pilipinas mentor.

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