Eagles take on ‘entertaining’ Tigers in showdown for solo lead
And with the defending champion Blue Eagles still not at their peak, the Kiwi-American mentor warned his team of the trouble that lies with playing a motivated and rejuvenated team like the Growling Tigers on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“I was so entertained (watching UST) and I love the way they play basketball,” said Baldwin shortly after the Eagles picked up their second win at the expense of rival La Salle, 81-69, last Sunday. “They just put their head down and go. Good luck (to us) if they’re hitting their shots.”
The Tigers have put the field on notice with back-to-back victories, making their 10:30 a.m. duel with the Blue Eagles also a battle for the early lead.
It’s not the just twin wins that have put the spotlight on the Tigers, but the way they pulled it off.
Having a roster that boasts speed, athleticism and deadly outside shooting, the Tigers overwhelmed University of the East (95-82) and toppled last season’s finalist, University of the Philippines (85-59).
UST coach Aldin Ayo has unveiled gems in rookies Rhenz Abando and Mark Nonoy, who starred against UE and UP, respectively. In Beninese center Soulemane Chabi Yo, the Tigers also have a pillar of strength inside the paint.
“They play unbelievable defense,” said Baldwin. “It’s going to be a track meet and a whole lot of fun especially for the fans. They’ll (Tigers) will try to pull us apart and wear us down.”
Track meet indeed, with a lot of guns popping along the way.
The Tigers have outran and, more importantly, outgunned the opposition all the way to the share of the lead. Although averaging just 10 points a game in transition (tied for third and fourth), UST is plus-3 in fastbreak points—best in the league.
It is from beyond the arc, though, that the Tigers have really feasted on their opponents, averaging a league-best 11.5 makes per game. They are also best at defending the three-pointer, surrendering just 4 makes a game (No. 1 in the league) and allowing 23 attempts (No. 2). They’re holding foes to 17.4 percent shooting from the three (No. 3) and are plus-22.5 from that distance every game—tops in the UAAP, by a mile (FEU is second at plus-12).
Trust Baldwin to take a hard look at those numbers as the Eagles prepare for their Wednesday showdown with the Tigers.
“But my overall impression is that Aldin has gotten his players buying into his system and they’re very disciplined,” said Baldwin.
And Ayo’s system is squeezing the best shot out of every possession, and the mercurial coach believes UST’s penchant for jacking up threes is a product of such a principle.
“It’s what the defense gives us,” Ayo said in Filipino. “That’s the hole in the [opponent’s] defense and we just exploit that hole. We are not necessarily [going for] the threes. We don’t settle for good or better [shots], we always settle for the best shot.”
The Tigers will have to be even more judicious with their shot-taking against the Eagles. Baldwin’s teams have generally fed off their opponents’ bad shots, turning their defense into the ignition of their offense.
Meanwhile, La Salle and National U try to bounce back from season-opening losses when they clash at 12:30 p.m., before Adamson shoots for a second straight victory against winless University of the East.
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