For the first time in the last four years, Ateneo finds itself in the biggest stage of the league’s most popular college basketballl league.
And the Blue Eagles couldn’t care less if they’ll come in as underdogs against the arch-rivals, the De La Salle Green Archers, in what promises to be an explosive best-of-3 titular showdown for the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball crown starting on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
While top-ranked La Salle took an easier part to the finals by taking down No. 4 Adamson in their Final Four matchup last week, Ateneo failed on its initial try against dethroned champion Far Eastern U and needed to pull off a gut-wrenching 69-68 overtime victory in their knockout tiff Wednesday night to arrange what many billed as the “dream showdown” for the first time since 2008.
And whether the odds are stacked against them, Ateneo’s American-Kiwi coach Tab Baldwin is confident the Blue Eagles can embrace on the underdog’s role—and achieve what their other rivals failed to so against the Green Archers in the elimination round.
“If they don’t see that we’re the underdogs, they’re blind. We are prohibitive underdogs in this tournament but the confidence that we take from having beaten them once,” said Baldwin, clearly referring to Ateneo’s gigantic 83-71 stunner last November 5 that stopped La Salle’s 12-game winning streak and its bid for a double-round sweep.
While the Green Archers will come in with fresher legs following a 10-day respite, the Blue Eagles should ride the momentum of their thrilling win over the Tamaraws and take advantage of their collective sharpness.
“I think that we have some momentum,” admitted Baldwin. “We have certainly some inspiration that we’ll take from the win today, and we are going to stand in front of them. We are not gonna bow out of the way, we are not gonna open the door for them. We’re gonna bloody them just like I’m sure they want to bloody us.”
Indeed. The Green Archers, aiming to shrug off the cobwebs quick, conducted a private training session at the Big Dome following the Blue Eagles’ victory and La Salle coach Aldin Ayo admitted they are “extra motivated” on taking on Ateneo in the finals.
The Green Archers have initially served the Blue Eagles a sound 97-81 beating in their first-round meeting last October 2 and Baldwin certainly knows what their rivals are capable of. But he is unfazed.
“At the same time, knowing that was a team that was a little bit complacent, that was a team that was on a 12-game run. That was a team that had beaten us soundly before, so we know that we’re not gonna see the same Green Archers team in Game 1,” he said.
“Are we ready for La Salle? We’ll find out. La Salle has to be ready for us. They know that. Well-coached team, tremendously talented team and we look forward to meeting them very, very soon, I think.” – Jerome Lagunzad
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