If this series was a chess match, then coaches Tab Baldwin and Aldin Ayo are its preeminent grandmasters.
Organized chaos and the house of mayhem meets collegiate hoop’s version of “European basketball”. The boys from Katipunan take on the cardiac kids of España – both mentored by two of college basketball’s brilliant minds.
The men’s basketball finals of the 82nd UAAP season pits the number one-ranked and three peat-seeking Ateneo De Manila against stepladder semifinal survivor the University of Santo Tomas in a best-of-three duel, which starts Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Blue Eagles, who automatically advanced to the championship round after a sweep of all their 14 elimination round games, gun for tournament perfection and a third consecutive Seniors title under the tutelage of Baldwin. The fourth-seeded Growling Tigers handled for the second year by Ayo, make a return to the UAAP Finals – a first since 2015.
For the third time, Baldwin and Ayo will match wits in a championship series, with their head-to-head battle deadlocked at 1-1.
Today, FOX Sports Philippines looks back at their previous finals encounters – the 2016 and 2017 editions of the men’s tournament:
Season 79: Ayo leads DLSU to a ninth title
In 2016, two “rookie” UAAP coaches towed their respective schools to the season finale. A former Gilas Pilipinas head coach, Baldwin was then in his first year at the helm for Ateneo while Ayo, fresh from steering his alma mater Letran to the 2015 NCAA championship, jumped over to Taft Avenue to steer the De La Salle program.
The Green Archers powered through the field, finishing with a 13-1 win-loss record after the double-round eliminations. Their only defeat came courtesy of Ateneo, who handed the Ben Mbala and Jeron Teng-led quintet an 83-71 shellacking in the second round of preliminaries. The Eagles, on the other hand, tallied a 10-4 slate.
In the semifinals, the Archers fended off the Adamson Soaring Falcons while the Eagles escaped past the FEU Tamaraws – setting up an intriguing finals meeting between the two first-year coaches.
After scoring a tight 67-65 win in Game 1, the Archers closed out the show in Game 2 with a 79-72 masterclass over their archrivals to claim the Season 79 hardware.
Season 80: Baldwin guides Ateneo to ninth crown
Out for vengeance in 2017, Baldwin whipped his wards to shape prior to the start of Season 80. A different Blue Eagles squad showed up for that year’s tournament, with Baldwin putting emphasis on fitness and conditioning. The blue and white squad trained their sights on matching up with Mbala and the rest of the Archers in another bruising battle, with better physique and mindset compared to the previous year.
Ateneo topped the eliminations with a 13-1 card while coming in at second with a 12-2 slate was DLSU. The Eagles and Archers disposed of off their Final Four opponents FEU and Adamson, respectively, to arrange another championship showdown.
The Eagles drew first blood, winning Game 1 by six, 76-70. In an exhilarating Game 2, the Archers essayed a come-from-behind 92-83 victory to extend the series to a decider.
Then in Game 3, Ateneo leaned on the heroics of Isaac Go, Thirdy Ravena, and Mike Nieto to eke out an 88-86 win to annex their ninth men’s championship. Cemented in UAAP lore was Go’s clutch three-pointer with 24 seconds remaining in the match which gave the Eagles an 85-80 breathing room.