MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles refused to get too down on themselves after their bid to sweep the elimination round of UAAP Season 80 was denied by their archrivals, the De La Salle University Green Archers.
Ateneo was just two minutes and 24 seconds away from completing a 14-0 sweep of the elimination round, as they led La Salle, 76-69, thanks to a Vince Tolentino lay-up. But they did not score again, while the Green Archers scored 10 unanswered points to end the game.
It was definitely a sorry loss for the Blue Eagles, who were outscored 25-13 in the fourth quarter – a period that they have usually dominated in Season 80.
But Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin was adamant that his players were “fine” after the loss.
“They understand,” said the Kiwi-American coach, who is in his second season at the helm for Ateneo. “We talked about it before the game, and we talked about it at halftime.”
“In fact, at halftime, I told them that the way we played in the first half, I hope we lose, because we didn’t deserve to win, the way we were playing,” Baldwin bared. “I think we solved that problem in the third quarter. We re-discovered who we were.”
“But then again, in the fourth quarter, you got to give credit to La Salle’s energy, effort, defensive changes, and our foul trouble,” he added. “We just could not overcome that.”
The players themselves were on an even keel after the defeat, even as they acknowledged their disappointment.
“Nakakapanghinayang,” said Matt Nieto, Ateneo’s hero in their first round game against La Salle. “Kasi, if ever we did make it, we’ll be the first Ateneo team to make it to 14-0.”
Still, they were quick to brush off that disappointment.
“Okay lang. I think it’s the reality,” Thirdy Ravena said of the loss. “Things don’t always go your way, and sometimes, when it doesn’t, you have to do something about it.”
“It’s nice, of course, to have the 14-0 sweep, but we’r ejust looking at the next game,” said Isaac Go, whose missed a lay-up with 12 seconds left that could have given the Blue Eagles back the lead.
“The team’s sad, of course, because we lost,” Nieto also said. “But we just talked about it, na it’s better na it happened now, instead of the Finals. Because if that happened in the Finals, we’re down one agad in the series.”
Indeed, Nieto said their loss to La Salle will only serve to fuel them in their succeeding games, starting with their Final Four contest against Far Eastern University (FEU) on Sunday.
“‘Yung pagkatalo namin ngayon, sobrang ganda ng learnings na natutunan namin, which we have to us again on Sunday against FEU,” said Nieto.
“We just have to prepare for FEU next week,” Ravena also stressed.
The Blue Eagles will surely see plenty of things to work on when they review the tape of the game. As Baldwin said, he was disappointed with how Ateneo played in the first half. They gave up 11 second chance points in the first two quarters and failed to finish defensive possessions.
They looked to have sold their issues in the third frame, when they outscored La Salle, 28-17. Ateneo was more aggressive in that quarter, with Ravena in particular repeatedly attacking en route to 10 points.
It all fell apart for Ateneo in crunch time, however. They committed three turnovers in the final two minutes, two of which led directly to points for the Green Archers. Indeed, Kib Montalbo’s go-ahead floater with 40 seconds left came after Go turned the ball over.
“We were caught up in the moment,” admitted Nieto. “We were not really playing our game sa dulo.”
“For sure, we’re going to bounce back,” he vowed. “We promise you that we’re going to be hungrier next time.”
Because of Ateneo’s loss, the UAAP Final Four will be held in its traditional format. The Blue Eagles face off against the Tamaraws on Sunday, while the Green Archers take on Adamson University on Saturday.
Ateneo and La Salle own twice-to-beat advantages over their respective foes.
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