MANILA, Philippines—Although last season’s Ateneo Blue Eagles had more experience, the current Ateneo team has the desire and determination to regain the championship they lost seven months ago in an epic three-match final with the University of the Philippines.
Frustrated with a return, the Blue Eagles renewed their rivalry with the Fighting Maroons on Sunday in Game 1 of their best three title clash.
“The Ateneo team in May has more experience than this team. But I think this team has the DNA of the underdogs. And, I don’t think the May team made it. I think there’s a bit of a sense of title ownership and we’ve learned the very, very hard way that nobody ever owns that title. Every season, you are not the defending champion. You are a new team playing for a new championship. And, we could have lost Season 84 before that,” Baldwin said later Ateneo eliminated Adamson, 81-60, in the Final Four on Wednesdays at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“This group certainly does not have that view. In terms of attitude, they knew they didn’t have any flaws and they played that way today. We need to play that way again on Sunday and every game of these Finals. So maybe determination is the word we’re looking for, this team has the determination to prove themselves. Because they haven’t, and if we want to win the championship, we need to,” he added.
Baldwin is gearing up for a better Fighting Maroons, who have a deep protective rotation with JD Cagulangan, Gerry Abadiano, Terrence Fortea, Cyril Gonzales, Harold Alarcon and James Spencer.
“Honestly, there isn’t much of a difference. Just better. I think the way Gonzales is playing right now, that really just deepens that defense, it’s an exceptional defence. When you have Cagulangan, Abadiano, Fortea, Gonzales and Spencer. Should I continue? Alarcon and you know, all these guys are elite UAAP players. All of these guys have big futures in the professional ranks,” Baldwin said.
“And to be honest, it’s not the endurance you need to put up with with some physicality in UAAP that I think is ridiculous. It’s the mental toughness to withstand the pressure UP can put on you.”
In the previous seven meetings between the two teams, UP has won four times, including the championship after a treble beat by Cagulangan in extra time.
Baldwin hopes to see the Blue Eagles maintain their match form for a sixth straight final,
“I think we’re a little bit schizophrenic, and we’ve been like that all year. So this is the team that I hope to appear in. But we also know that we can become a team that passes the ball indiscriminately, forgetting the position of counter-attacks, defending sporadically. But if we can be a team for 40 minutes, there’s a lot of quality basketball in this basketball team,” he said.
“If we do it, people will open up. We have to find them and fight. If we do that, I’m pretty confident that our defence will show up. But, you know, that’s why we’re going to play it – to find out.”
In anticipating another series of drama and pressure, Baldwin encouraged Ateneo fans to rally behind the Blue Eagles as they attempt to reclaim the UAAP title.
“I want MOA and Araneta to be filled with green in every potential position available. And I don’t care what it takes to get those seats. I want the Ateneo loyalists to be behind this team because this team has so much exceeded their expectations, and even to be fair, the coaching staff. But the good thing is they didn’t outdo themselves, and that’s a credit to them,” Baldwin said.
“We need to fight hard in One Big Fight, BEBOB, we need every blue-blooded Filipino from around the world to throw every bit of weight they have on this team. Because that’s the level of respect I have for UP and that’s what I think the team is like.”
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