Tab Baldwin: Ateneo has ‘DNA of underdogs’ this time in UAAP Finals rematch vs UP
MANILA, Philippines—While last season’s Ateneo Blue Eagles were more experienced, the current Ateneo team has the hunger and determination to bring back the championship it lost seven months ago in an epic three-game finale against University of the Philippines.
Hell-bent on bouncing back, the Blue Eagles renew their rivalry with the Fighting Maroons on Sunday in Game 1 of their best-of-three title clash.
“That Ateneo team in May had a lot more experience than this team. But I think this team has the DNA of underdogs. And, I don’t think the team in May did. I think there was a little bit of a sense of ownership of the title, and we learned the very, very hard way that nobody ever owns the title. Every season, you’re not a defending champion. You’re a new team playing for a new championship. And, we may have lost sight of that last Season 84,” said Baldwin after Ateneo eliminated Adamson, 81-60, in the Final Four on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“This team certainly doesn’t have that perspective. They know that attitudinally, they just don’t have any margin for error, and they played that way today. We need to play that way again on Sunday and every game of these Finals. So maybe resolve is the word that we’re looking for, this team has a resolve to prove themselves. Because they haven’t, yet, and if we’re gonna win a championship, we need to,” he added.
Baldwin is bracing for a better Fighting Maroons, who have a deep guard rotation with JD Cagulangan, Gerry Abadiano, Terrence Fortea, Cyril Gonzales, Harold Alarcon, and James Spencer.
“Not a lot different, to be honest. Just better. I think the way Gonzales is playing right now, that really just deepens that guard line-up, which is a special guard line-up. When you’ve got Cagulangan, Abadiano, Fortea, Gonzales and Spencer. Should I go on? Alarcon and you know, all of these guys are elite UAAP players. All of these guys have big futures in the professional ranks,” Baldwin said.
“And it’s not the toughness that you need to put up with some of the physicality in the UAAP that I think is ridiculous, to be honest. It’s the mental toughness to withstand the pressure that UP can put on you.”
In the past seven meetings between the two team, UP won four times, including the championship clincher on a buzzer-beating triple by Cagulangan in overtime.
Baldwin hopes to see the Blue Eagles sustain the level of their game in their sixth straight finals,
“I think we’re a little bit schizophrenic, and we have been all year. So this is the team that I hope shows up. 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,” he said.
“If we execute, people will be open. We have to find them and hit shots. If we do that, I’m pretty confident our defense will show up. But, you know, that’s why we’re gonna play it — to find out.”
As he anticipates another pressure-packed and dramatic series, Baldwin encourages Ateneo fans to rally behind the Blue Eagles as they try to reclaim the UAAP title.
“I want MOA and Araneta to be chock full of blue in every potential seat that is available. And I don’t care what it takes to get those seats. I want the Ateneo faithful behind this team because this team has already surpassed a lot of the expectations of them, and even to be fair, of the coaching staff. But the good thing is, they haven’t surpassed their own, and that’s a credit to them,” Baldwin said.
“We need to fight with every ounce of the One Big Fight, the BEBOB, we need every single blue-blooded Filipino from around the world throwing every bit of weight they have behind this team. Because that’s how much respect I have for UP, and that’s how good I think that team is.”
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