Ateneo de Manila University’s 12th University Athletic Association of the Philippines championship was its hardest under head coach Tab Baldwin.
During the school’s thanksgiving Mass Monday evening, Baldwin admitted this was his hardest championship campaign for the Blue Eagles in the league since he started calling the shorts for the team in 2016.
Ateneo vanquished University of the Philippines, 75-68, in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 85 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum and exact payback after the Fighting Maroons beat them last May in Season 84.
“I’ve never worked as hard as I worked this season. That’s not a joke. That’s the truth,” Baldwin said.
“They fought, they learned and sometimes they listened. I have never had so many difficult practices, I never gone home in such a foul frame of mind as I did this year and they knew it too.”
“There’s no joking around here and they knew it too. But in spite of all of that, they kept working.”
In a short amount of time, the Blue Eagles were able to reclaim the UAAP title.
But getting the job done wasn’t easy and foresight was key.
To make sure a heartbreak won’t happen twice, Ateneo played in the World University Basketball Games and had a tune-up game with visiting team Bay Area last August before setting up a training camp in Israel in September.
After claiming the top spot with an 11-3 win-loss record, the Blue Eagles easily dispatched Adamson University, 81-60, in the Final Four last 7 December to arrange a finals rematch with UP.
The Maroons took Game 1, 72-66, last 11 December at the Mall of Asia Arena before Ateneo leveled the series after carving a 65-55 win at the Big Dome three days later.
With Zav Lucero missing for UP after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in Game 2, Ateneo stepped on the gas early in the game.
Finals Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame was phenomenal for the Blue Eagles as he finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds, one assist and four blocks in his final game.
Head-to-head, the Blue Eagles knocked down 37 points from the perimeter in contrast to the 23 perimeter points UP shot.
James Spencer might have scored 14 points for the Maroons but he fired 5-of-14 in the game along with Carl Tamayo, who had 11 points for the Maroons, on 4-of-17 from the field.
Ateneo also scored more turnover points compared to UP, 17-7, in the match.
Surprisingly, UAAP Mythical team member Dave Ildefonso was only limited to single digits in the Blue Eagles’ victories in Games 2 and 3.
Ildefonso only scored three points in Game 2 last Wednesday while he had two markers in the title-clinching Game 3.
But for the 22-year-old guard, who is headed to South Korea for a stint there, he is just happy we will leave Katipunan with a championship after trusting Baldwin’s system.
“I’m just so happy. We just stuck to the system and followed coach Tab,” Ildefonso said.
“For me, I’m kinda the glue guy. Whatever coach Tab wanted from me, I just give it my 100 percent and I’m a champion now.”