UAAP Basketball

UAAP champion Ateneo keen on blocking ‘outside noise’ as skid reaches 10-year worst

JR Isaga

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UAAP champion Ateneo keen on blocking ‘outside noise’ as skid reaches 10-year worst

STAY THE COURSE. Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga instructs the Blue Eagles in the UAAP Season 86 men's basketball tournament

UAAP Season 86 Media Team

Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga brushes off the Blue Eagles' decade-worst losing streak, saying the growth process still moves on for the young, inconsistent squad

MANILA, Philippines – Even before the start of the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament, the Ateneo Blue Eagles have already established themselves as a work-in-progress team, far removed from the veteran-laden squad that hoisted the championship just last season.

Multi-titled head coach Tab Baldwin quickly tempered fans’ expectations in the preseason press conference and continually preached patience for his growing group of youngsters as their title defense campaign got off to a rocky start.

Ateneo’s waves of opponents, however, are hitting harder across the champions’ creaking ship as it finds itself now on a three-game losing streak – a 10-year worst – after dropping another close affair to the NU Bulldogs on Saturday, November 4.

Despite this new batch of Blue Eagles crashing into uncharted territory, Baldwin’s longtime deputy Sandy Arespacochaga nonetheless echoed the same message, insisting that the team must stay laser-focused in crafting its new identity.

“I think the mindset is not dwelling on the negatives or the outside noise or thinking about ‘Oh no, we’re in a situation where we’ve lost a lot of games,'” said Arespacochaga, who filled in for a sick Baldwin against Jeff Napa’s feisty Bulldogs.

“It has to come from each one of us: coaching staff, leaders of the team, and the players. Season is not yet over, that’s what we’ve been saying. We’re gonna prepare hard, watch tape. We got a job to do.”

Consistency issues have plagued the upstart Eagles since their first game, as they have fallen victim to two buzzer-beater losses, blowouts, and other close shaves, but in turn also dominated the league-leading UP Fighting Maroons in their biggest win so far.

Team leaders Kai Ballungay and Chris Koon have alternated good and bad games for much of Ateneo’s 10-game run so far, while rookie big men Mason Amos and Joe Obasa have understandably gone through the same growing pains all first-year players have experienced.

The Blue Eagles, currently standing outside the top four, hold a 4-6 record behind UP (8-2), NU (8-2), La Salle (7-3), and Adamson (5-5).

“[Coach Tab] has won a lot, but he has lost a lot also in his career. That’s basketball,” said Arespacochaga. “Sometimes you win a lot, sometimes you lose a lot, but what’s important is the mindset that we have. The determination that we have, I think, is very important.”

The reeling Blue Eagles hope to get to their act together sooner rather than later as the cellar-dwelling UST Growling Tigers, with practically nothing left to lose in a rebuilding season, look to pounce next on Wednesday, November 8, 11 am, at the Araneta Coliseum. –

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