For Ateneo de Manila University head coach Tab Baldwin, their battle against De La Salle University in Season 85 University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament is just another day at the office.
Baldwin, the noted former Gilas Pilipinas tactician, said they would rather focus on the “bigger picture” rather than dwell on a rivalry that has been put on the back burner for the past several years.
The Blue Eagles and the Green Archers — collegiate basketball’s fiercest rivals — are set for an early collision at 4:30 p.m. following the 1 p.m. encounter between University of Santo Tomas and National University on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
While Ateneo remains undefeated in its first two games, La Salle suffered a disaster when it absorbed a disappointing 69-72 loss to reigning champion University of the Philippines in its opening match last week.
The Green Archers, however, displayed their might when they booked a 20-point beating of dangerous University of Santo Tomas, 83-63, that jacked up their confidence heading into their rivalry battle against the Blue Eagles.
Still, hopping into the rivalry bandwagon is the last among Baldwin’s priorities.
“I think, for me anyway, the big picture is always bigger than the small picture, which is the rivalry. The big picture here is how good we’re going to get week after week, game after game,” said Baldwin after steering the Blue Eagles to a 77-60 victory over the Bulldogs.
“Both La Salle and us are still worried about notching wins and getting into a position where we’re going to be in the playoffs.”
The encounters between Ateneo and La Salle have always been special regardless of who is on the court.
In fact, their rivalry started when they were still playing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but reached its peak around 20 years ago when Ateneo paraded its former high school stars in Enrico Villanueva, Wesley Gonzales, Larry Fonacier and Epok Quimpo against a rag-tag La Salle squad bannered by Mike Cortez, Mac Cardona, Adonis Sta. Maria and Joseph Yeo.
During that time, the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry was red-hot that celebrities, politicians, businessmen and industry leaders from both schools took the time off their busy schedules to troop to the venue to cheer their hearts out with ticket prices soaring to astronomical amounts.
The intensity of the rivalry somehow subsided in the past couple of years when the Blue Eagles won three consecutive titles from 2017 to 2019 before yielding the crown to the Fighting Maroons last year following a pandemic-hit season.
But with the Archers now being bannered by Gilas mainstay Kevin Quiambao, Mark Nonoy, CJ Austria and Filipino-American recruits Schonny Winston and Ben and Mike Phillips with seasoned mentor Derrick Pumaren as head coach, they now have a strong chance of threatening the Blue Eagles and reviving their fierce, colorful rivalry once more.
After all, Baldwin also has a fighting crew led by reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame, Fortsky Padrigao, Kai Ballungay and Dave Ildefonso to bank on.
Baldwin, however, simply brushed it off, saying that their focus is to simply win the game and call it a day.
“We’re not counting on a clean slate this year but we’re in it every game to compete to win,” the 64-year-old Kiwi-American mentor said.
“I think everybody now is realizing that this year’s UAAP, you can throw all predictions out of the window.”