On to the next: Eagles gain traction after surviving Archers
Playing better compared to the last time, defending champion Ateneo came out on top in its matchup everyone in Katipunan comes out to watch every UAAP men’s basketball season.
And coach Tab Baldwin, though not “overly satisfied” but “really happy,” knows that the 77-72 win on Wednesday night at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City counts for just that: one win.
“This won’t mean a lot if we drop the next game, because they don’t give bonus points for beating La Salle,” Baldwin said. “Maybe they should. But they don’t, so we gotta get ready for the next one.”
Despite being labeled as the team to beat and repeat, the Blue Eagles needed to dig deep in the trenches to carve out the victory and rise to 1-1, partially erasing the stigma of a blowout loss to contender National U in the inaugurals.
But Baldwin, the perfectionist that he has always been, is far from giving his wards a high passing mark.
“This was a gutsy win. It wasn’t a great basketball win, and I want to play better basketball,” Baldwin said. “You could ask me that question 365 days a year, you’d get the same answer.
“I am not overly satisfied when we don’t play good basketball and win, but I am really happy with the gutsy performance.”
La Salle’s Topex Robinson, meanwhile, said he was outcoached and “didn’t make the right adjustments” as the Green Archers were forced to a sour debut.
Kai Ballungay, Mason Amos and Chris Koon delivered as they led the Eagles to the bounce back win after firing duds in a 77-64 loss to the Bulldogs last Sunday.
Finding the fight
“I think that we found some fight and what was lacking last game and to find it was very rewarding, however, quality of performance needs to be better but I think it will get better,” Baldwin went on.
La Salle led before the half, applying defensive pressure that prevented the Blue Eagles from properly executing their offense before Ateneo’s subtle adjustments in the second half.
Ballungay finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds, 12 of them offensively, and hurt the Green Archers with dunks in the final frame, including one off two defenders.
Koon finished with 19 points and Joe Obasa added 11 and 16 rebounds.
Amos, meanwhile, was clutch with two consecutive triples that gave Ateneo breathing room in the stretch.
“I think my teammates gave me the right looks at the right time. I was just in rhythm,” Amos said. “Just fighting until the end, that’s what we showed today, and obviously rebounding was a big key for us. We know it’s an Ateneo-La Salle [game] so it’s good to get that win. But we still move on to the next one.”
That next one will be Adamson on Saturday, and the Eagles will be contending with a side that was also gutsy in carving out a 79-76 overtime win over University of Santo Tomas also on Wednesday.
“Nash [Racela, Adamson coach,] is a crafty veteran. This league is full of really good coaches, and Nash is just one of those guys,” Baldwin said. “He has all my respect and any coach that knows him well, I guarantee you, he has their respect as well, so it’s gonna be tough.”