Mutual respect grows for Baldwin, Ayo after Ateneo-UST thriller
MANILA, Philippines – The early top-team showdown between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and UST Growling Tigers turned out to match the pre-game hype, and then some.
The two-time defending champions – the epitome of methodical dominance at the collegiate level – had to dig deep to squeeze out a 71-70 win against the run-and-gun mayhem that is UST.
Such a clash of styles was not unfamiliar territory to both sides, however, as Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin and former La Salle chief tactician Aldin Ayo already got one championship over the other in Seasons 79 and 80.
Even though Ayo has moved on from Taft to the Tigers’ lair in España, Baldwin’s respect for his rival coach has not wavered over the years.
“I just have so much respect for him and the way he does his job and you know he's a blessing for Philippine basketball, for the UAAP,” he said in the post-game presser. “It was a great game and those last few minutes were pretty tough, pretty tense.”
“There's a lot of learnings for us from this game. This is going to make us, I believe, a lot better basketball team because Aldin's team has a way of doing that they have a way of finding your weaknesses,” he continued.
“I've coached against him enough to know that after you play him there's a lot of patchworks to be done on the things that he exposes his team.”
For Ayo, the respect is mutual.
“Nothing but respect for coach Tab,” he responded. “He made the UAAP better. He raised the level of competition. He made the players better. Not only his players, but the other players. He made the coaches better.”
“On my part, I love the challenge,” Ayo continued. “I’m also growing because of him. Maybe it’s the same for them. That’s the good thing about competition, especially sportsmanship. You handle it well, you take it well, then everybody benefits from it.”
Although the once-unbeaten Tigers headed to the match as the obvious underdog, Ayo never thought of his team as such, and neither did Baldwin.
“We are confident in everything that we do because we’ve been preparing hard since November 28,” Ayo said.
"We are confident that we can compete, but some of the players especially the rookies, they do not know it yet until today when they saw that they can do it. But at the back of their minds, they know they can compete. Actually, the whole team, we know that we can compete.”
“I don't want to say I told you so, but I told you so,” noted Baldwin. “We could see that, we understood that game was going to be a really, really tough game and I feel very, very fortunate that we won the game.”
“You know, that's the kind of game that you can credit your team as much as you want,” he continued. “You can talk about character and toughness, and you know, and pulling it out in the crunch and all of that, but I think that every applaud that you give your team, the other team deserves exactly the same thing because that game could have gone either way.”
Time will tell if the two champion coaches meet again at UAAP's biggest stage, but if they do, Wednesday's grind-out match will surely prove to not be a one-off thing. – Rappler.com