MANILA, Philippines – As champions always do, the Ateneo Blue Eagles reasserted their mastery over the UST Growling Tigers with a 66-52 series-sweeping win to start the UAAP Season 82 men’s basketball second round on Saturday, October 5.
The reigning two-time titlists held the Tigers to just 29% shooting from the field in their season-low 52-point effort after averaging a league-leading 81 markers prior to Saturday’s clash.
The biggest casualty of the Eagles’ smothering defense was leading MVP candidate Soulemane Chabi Yo, who got limited to just 6 points on a 2-of-11 shooting – the first single-digit scoring game of his UAAP career.
As a result, the hard-to-please head coach Tab Baldwin had a lot to say on his wards’ defensive efforts on the Beninese big man.
“Our players did a very good job of studying that the day before and we did a better job in the first half, really understanding who their primary scorers were and keeping them in check,” he said in the post-game presser.
“Then we did in the second half, we fell away from that a little bit. I mean, there’s a lot of factors going in.
“Certainly, our rim protector out there makes it easier, but it doesn’t mean that’s the only way for us to play defense and we believe that.”
Ange Kouame, who barely trails Chabi Yo in the MVP race, got saddled with foul trouble but still did what he could on the defensive end with 7 rebounds and 2 blocks to offset his two-point output.
“We’d love to have Ange out there and have that rim protection but it’s not something for us to feel vulnerable when he goes out of the game,” Baldwin continued.
“We don’t feel vulnerable defensively when he’s out of the game. I know a lot of people think that we are but we’re not.”
Even with Kouame limited, Baldwin trusted his team enough to take the challenge in holding down the rest of the trigger-happy Tigers, which they passed with flying colors.
“I think the players might not believe me when I say this and I do not want them to believe me all the time but I have absolute trust in our team,” he continued.
“We make a lot of mistakes. Thirdy [Ravena] is sitting here and owning up to the fact that with 17 points, you weigh it up against 8 turnovers. It comes out as an ordinary game, not a great game. I trust that they understand that, I trust that they’re trying to do the right thing. And I trust that they give everything that they have to our schemes, our efforts with one another.”
“But it isn’t always pretty, it isn’t always perfect. I’ve never been against winning ugly. Ever in my life. We want to win, we want to play beautiful basketball but when you put your heart and soul like these guys, particularly on the defensive end, they can only do that if I trust them and so yes, they have my absolute trust.”
Flawed game notwithstanding, the Eagles are still dominating and undefeated in 8 games, with their one-point win in the first round against UST being the only real threat to their streak.
Their two-way play will next be tested against the reeling, but ever-dangerous Adamson Soaring Facons on Wednesday, October 9, at the Araneta Coliseum. – Rappler.com