MANILA, Philippines – The pressure has shifted to the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
A young team that started the season with modest expectations but soared to the second seed in the Final Four is now in danger of blowing a twice-to-beat advantage and a shot at returning to the UAAP Finals for the first time in 4 years.
The Blue Eagles failed to finish off defending champions FEU Tamaraws in one game on Saturday, November 26, when they absorbed a 62-61 UAAP Season 79 Final Four defeat.
Despite the setback, guard Thirdy Ravena remains optimistic the team can make the right adjustments and finish the job in the winner-take-all match on Wednesday, November 30.
"It’s not yet done. We have another game on Wednesday. It’s just the half. We don’t come out in the dugout of the half hanging our heads so it’s another half on Wednesday," he said after the loss.
"We have to stay positive and of course prepare for what they’re about to do."
The Blue Eagles started the game flat and could not find their groove offensively, chucking up 16 triples and made only one in the first half. They ultimately went 6-of-36 from long range at the end of it, something head coach Tab Baldwin was reportedly not happy about.
Ateneo also gave up 20-of-28 free throws to the defending champions and, after gaining some rhythm and 10-point leads in the third and fourth quarters, was unable to match FEU's hustle on both ends.
Raymar Jose singlehandedly out-rebounded the Eagles in the fourth quarter, 11-8, and tallied a total of 23 rebounds. Ateneo had just 40 to FEU's 50 boards. Having 15 turnovers did not help either.
It was a fourth quarter meltdown that not even two last-gasp 3-pointers from Ravena could salvage.
"We fell short in the last quarter – we gave them 27 points, allowed them 17 free throws, they made 13 of them, we gave them 7 offensive rebounds that quarter," said Ravena, who finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds but was scoreless in the first half.
"So we have a lot to work on but on Wednesday, hopefully, we get the job done."
Ravena admitted they were surprised by FEU's zone defense that forced Ateneo out of the paint.
"Probably the fact that they zoned me and Aaron (Black). We probably should've anticipated that because they don't want us to penetrate but we'll prepare for it," he said in a mix of Filipino and English.
Ateneo will have a second chance at closing it out on Wednesday and potentially setting another finals match-up with rival DLSU Green Archers. – Rappler.com