Expect Ateneo de Manila University to be laser-focused when it battles University of the Philippines in the finals of Season 85 University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament.
Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin said they will treat the best-of-three finals series as if their lives depend on it in a bid to claim the title that the Fighting Maroons grabbed from them last year.
Ateneo marched to its sixth straight finals appearance following a masterful 81-60 win over Adamson in the Final Four late Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
They will face the Fighting Maroons, who pulled off a 69-61 victory over National University in the other Final Four pairing, in the finals starting Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“I think if you know me, the answer is always ‘practice for the next game.’ We don’t tend to look at the finals or the playoffs and we really try to stay focused on what we can do better as a player and as a team,” the Kiwi-American mentor said.
“We have such an outstanding coaching staff that continues to bring everybody back to the daily task and that’s the secret. Just to stay focused on the daily task.”
The first time Baldwin led the Blue Eagles in the finals was in 2016 when they lost to De La Salle University bannered by Ben Mbala of Cameroon.
Since then, the Eagles were unstoppable as they racked up three straight titles behind future professional players in Thirdy Ravena, Mike and Matt Nieto and Tyler Tio.
But Ateneo’s luck ran out when it lost to a hungry UP squad last May.
Deprived of a UAAP title since 1986, the Fighting Maroons went all out and ruled Season 84 to snap the Blue Eagles dominance in college basketball.
Baldwin believes that the group of Dave Ildefonso, Ange Kouame, Kai Ballungay, Chris Koon and BJ Andrade has what it takes to reclaim the title.
“I think we’re a little bit schizophrenic, and we have been all year. So, this is the team that I hope shows up,” Baldwin said.
“But we also know that we can be a team that turns the ball over indiscriminately, that forgets where the rebounds are, that defends sporadically. But if we can be a 40-minute team, there’s a lot of quality basketball in this basketball team.”