MANILA, Philippines — Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin believes their Game 1 defeat was a “blessing” as the Blue Eagles were able to do make the big plays down the stretch this time to force a winner-take-all for the title against the never-say-die University of the Philippines.
The Blue Eagles refused to suffer another meltdown as they staved off the Fighting Maroons’ late comeback to take Game 2, 69-66, in the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball Finals on Wednesday at Mall of Asia Arena.
“I think the loss in Game One, in a way, is a blessing. And it’s a blessing because you know, we fail in life. It happens to everybody,” said Baldwin after Ateneo bounced back from an 81-74 loss in Game One last Sunday. “We looked at that as an opportunity to grow. We looked at that as a situation in which we had to acknowledge we weren’t good enough.”
“The two games were so similar, but the difference in game (two) was we made some big plays at the end and game one, they made big plays at the end,” he added.
The American-Kiwi coach, who is seeking Ateneo’s fourth straight UAAP championship, saw the semblance of Goldwin Monteverde’s UP to the 2017 La Salle team, led by Ben Mbala and former Green Archer-turned-Maroon Ricci Rivero under coach Aldin Ayo.
“Certainly the physical toughness of up is very similar to the physical toughness of La Salle the way they play physical defense. But the UP team is truly a great rebounding team. And this is such a big key I think and winning championships,” said Baldwin.
“Statistically, we’ve been a very, very good strong rebounding team this year as well. We’ve had our hands full more than had our hands full with UP. I think they’re a better rebounding team than La Salle was. La Salle probably shot the ball a little bit better with (Aljun) Melecio and (Andrei) Caracut and these guys that were rare, very good perimeter players.”
Baldwin and the Blue Eagles, who were led before by Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go and Matt and Mike Nieto, won their first championship against La Salle in Season 80 five years ago.
A GOLDWIN FAN
Like how he was impressed with Ayo, the former national team coach lauded Monteverde’s high quality coaching.
“In all honesty, you know, I’m a big Aldin Ayo fan. And certainly, Goldwin is making me a big fan of his as well, the way he’s coaching his team and the way that they’re playing in big moments,” he said. “This is a high quality coaching staff led by Goldwin and nothing is like very much like the La Salle series.”
In their first Finals Game 3 since 2017, Baldwin anticipates an epic fight and he hopes his Blue Eagles will give their all to make all their sacrifices this unprecedented bubble season.
“It’s tough and if ever there was a flip of the coin, this game three could be that,” he said. “Heading into game three, we have to put everything that happened for Game Two behind us now. And we have a whole new challenge in front of us. Whatever work we did, whatever sacrifices we made over the last few days, they were significant. We should expect to be facing the same situation.”
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