UAAP Basketball

Baldwin likens ‘physical’ UP series to Ateneo-La Salle finals war

JR Isaga

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Baldwin likens ‘physical’ UP series to Ateneo-La Salle finals war

SMOTHERED. UP makes Ateneo work for every single point in the UAAP finals Game 2

UAAP Season 84 Media Team

The UAAP basketball finals extends to a do-or-die Game 3 for the first time since 2017, and Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin finds a lot of similarities with this year's UP team to their former finals foe La Salle

MANILA, Philippines – For the first time in five years, the UAAP basketball finals is headed to a winner-take-all Game 3 after the Ateneo Blue Eagles edged out the UP Fighting Maroons, 69-66, on Wednesday, May 11.

After sweeping their way to their last three titles, the Ateneo dynasty suddenly found itself in unfamiliar territory – playing catch-up with its season on the line in front of more than 13,000 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Fortunately for the Blue Eagle faithful, their team outhustled its Katipunan neighbor on the defensive end as they created an 8-point separation in the final minute, 69-61, to run away with the win.

Incidentally, the last time the UAAP finals went the full three-game distance was also five years ago, when Ateneo started its championship dominance with a gritty series against a formidable La Salle squad bannered by the likes of two-time MVP Ben Mbala, Aljun Melecio, and current UP star Ricci Rivero.

With this in mind, Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin couldn’t help but compare this iteration of the Fighting Maroons to the past Green Archers rosters, given how much UP is making Ateneo work for every point until the very end.

“I was just sitting here thinking that this finals series feels like that La Salle series. It doesn’t feel like college basketball. It feels like something more [is] at stake. I think that UP brings really, really high quality basketball to this series. Tonight, we [just] responded,” he said after the game.

“Certainly the physical toughness of UP is very similar to the physical toughness of La Salle, the way they played physical defense, but the UP team is truly a great rebounding team. This is such a big key, I think, in winning championships,” he continued.

Confirming Baldwin’s astute observations, UP indeed outworked Ateneo in its stunning Game 1 overtime win as multiple imposing Maroons like Malick Diouf and Rookie of the Year Carl Tamayo hustled their way to a lot more offensive boards than the Blue Eagles would have wanted.

In Game 2, however, the Blue Eagles regrouped and found a hole in the Maroons’ offensive game at the very end. As they stretched their defense to the perimeter, scrappy guards SJ Belangel and Gian Mamuyac forced back-to-back turnovers leading to game-winning buckets – a sequence that UP just couldn’t recover from.

“Both series, it just felt like you were in a fight. It felt like nothing was easy. There wasn’t an easy possession,” Baldwin continued.

“In all honesty, I’m a big Aldin Ayo fan, and certainly Goldwin [Monteverde] is making me a big fan of his as well, the way he’s coaching his team, and the way that they’re playing in big moments. This is a high quality coaching staff led by Goldwin, and you know, nothing is easy.”

With both teams’ campaigns now hanging in the balance on Friday, May 13, Baldwin is just hoping that his team can pull through with the breaks of the game – the same way their rise to the top started back in 2017.

“Very much like the La Salle series, it’s tough, and if ever there was a flip of the coin, this Game 3 could be that,” Baldwin concluded. –

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