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MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles are on the cusp of history yet again.
As if winning two straight UAAP championships isn’t good enough, the Tab Baldwin-coached squad stands one win away from completing a 14-0 sweep and clinching an outright finals berth in Season 82 men’s basketball.
That feat hasn’t been achieved since Paul Lee led the UE Red Warriors to a season sweep and a finals spot 12 years ago.
However, standing in the Blue Eagles’ way is another team meddling with the history books: the UP Fighting Maroons.
After not sniffing the Final Four for 21 straight years, the revamped Maroons program has now clinched back-to-back playoff appearances and its first top two elimination finish – which comes with a twice-to-beat bonus – in the Final Four era.
Boosted by the resurgent Jun Manzo, Ricci Rivero and Juan Gomez de Liaño, UP looks more cohesive than ever with league-leading scorer Kobe Paras and reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie still leading the way.
While a lot can be said about the team needing time and time again to survive in the clutch just to win, the fact remains that they win. With all 9 victories under their belt decided by 6 points or less, it’s safe to say that flirting with disaster has become routine for the Maroons.
This is something the Eagles barely experienced this season, and for good reason.
With their last two wins decided by a combined margin of 70 points, Ateneo always looks poised to secure their wins sooner rather than later. This also manifested in their 26-point beatdown of UP in the first round – a game that was marred by head coach Bo Perasol’s outburst and subsequent suspension.
They did all this by perfecting the formula that netted them their championships in the first place: good old-fashioned teamwork.
No flash, no glamor. Just basketball. That is the Ateneo way that not even UP has been able to overcome.
Will UP’s heart prevail over Ateneo’s skills or will the UAAP kings brush aside their Katipunan brothers for another trip to the finals?
Game time is at 4 pm on Wednesday, October 30 at the Mall of Asia Arena. Follow Rappler’s live updates below: