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Pep talk fires up Ildefonso

Dave Ildefonso finally got his chance to carry Ateneo de Manila University past defending champion University of the Philippines following back-to-back losses in their head-to-head duel since the finals of last season.

The veteran forward struggled in the first half but regained his following a short talk with head coach Tab Baldwin to lead the Blue Eagles to a 75-67 victory in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 85 men’s basketball tournament Saturday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Ildefonso finished with 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds in Ateneo’s fifth straight win that sealed a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.

“I think what really helped me out was when Coach Tab really pulled me aside and just talked to me, and just gave me some Tab Baldwin wisdom, which I always am welcome to receive,” Ildefonso said.

Ildefonso was ice-cold in the first two quarters as he went scoreless in almost 17 minutes of playing time.

He shot 0-of-7 from the field and had just one rebound and committed a turnover in the first half.

Still, Baldwin kept his faith in his trusted ward.

“Dave is dealing with a lot of pressure from a lot of different angles, I should say. And, I did tell him — I did tell him that no matter what, he’s my guy. There’s not an incident that can happen that backs me off of this guy,” Baldwin said.

Ildefonso then emerged in the second half energized, drilling two triples and sinking six of his nine charities while pulling down four more boards.

He scored 12 of Ateneo’s 18 points in the third quarter.

“He (Baldwin) just told me to just have fun, he told me to have fun. It’s a big moment, it’s a big game, so many people are watching. He told me that he just has so much belief in me, and he told me that he’s gonna have my back whatever happens,” Ildefonso said.

“I told him that I’d have his back, too. That just helped me out, and the caliber of coach that he is, and just hearing that from a great coach like him, it just ups your confidence by a thousand percent.”

The Fighting Maroons have been tormenting Ildefonso with their stingy defense since Season 84 Finals.

Although Ildefonso scored 22 points in their first meeting this season, he shot 7-of-21 from the field in Ateneo’s 71-76 overtime loss.

But in their elimination rematch, Ildefonso made the shots that mattered the most.

“It was a big confidence-boost because I’m making my shots,” he said.

“And, you know, they’ve been defending me really well, especially in the finals. As hard as it is to look back at it, my performance in the finals, I just try to keep my head down and just keep working, and just try to get the shots that I can take.”

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