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MANILA, Philippines – The first round of the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament wraps up on Sunday, October 22, with a blockbuster main event between Season 85 finalists UP Fighting Maroons and defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Protagonists of three of the last four UAAP finals, the Katipunan powerhouses are once again heating up their fans’ neighborhood rivalry as ticket sales ramp up for the 4 pm weekend capper.
Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, however, has never been a proponent of unnecessary hype for his squad, and is not starting now, especially with his young Blue Eagles just holding an even 3-3 record nearing the halfway mark of the elimination round.
“It’s definitely not a rematch. The names of the teams might be the same but we’re a far cry from the same team that went out to play them [in the finals],” he said. “We have a lot to prove, you know? And every game is an opportunity for us to prove things.”
While Ateneo has showed flashes of brilliance in the early goings of the new season, its new leading players have not yet been able to pull it together consistently, as evidenced with the fact that the Blue Eagles have yet to clinch a winning record after six games.
Baldwin, Ateneo’s harshest critic and staunchest supporter at the same time, nonetheless believes that his team still has what it takes to give the Maroons a credible scare.
“[UP coach] Goldwin [Monteverde] can sweat a little bit this week which we want him to, but come game time on Sunday, he’s gonna be very confident in his team. He’s gonna be very confident in their performance, their strength, but he’s gonna worry during the week,” Baldwin continued.
“I think our performance [against UST] gave him a few different things to think about. It’s ‘One Big Fight’ versus ‘UP Fight.’ We’re getting a little bit used to that over the years. I’m sure the fans will be very enthusiastic about it. We’ll show up. Don’t lose any sleep over that, we’ll be there.”
Sure enough, if there’s one team hungry enough to stain UP’s 6-0 record, it might as well be the defending champions, but if they are doomed to fall like the rest, they will not fall without a fight. – Rappler.com