Squandering a 21-point lead in Game 2 does not shatter Ateneo de Manila University’s confidence as it plunge into the winner-take-all Game 3 on Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum against De La Salle University in Season 80 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball finals.
Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin said his wards have moved on from that major collapse last Wednesday where Ateneo, leading the series 1-0, saw its huge spread disappeared en route to a 92-83 loss to archrival La Salle.
The American mentor said there were several factors why the Blue Eagles failed to capitalize on their early lead.
“We get rid of that loss in the locker room after the game. We move on. We have Game 3 and that’s all we think about. We won’t think about Game 2. It’s winner takes all now,” said Baldwin minutes after their epic Game 2 battle where the defending champions erased their hefty first half lead to force a sudden-death Game 3.
“Credit La Salle’s defense. Credit the changes coach (Aldin) Ayo made. He went big—that didn’t work. He went smal—that began to work. His pressure started to take the toll and momentum swung. We didn’t play well once the momentum swung.”
Ateneo was poised to wrap up the series after erecting a 45-24 advantage midway the second quarter but La Salle, behind two-time Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala, Ricci Rivero and Andrei Caracut, retaliated with a 40-10 salvo resulting in a 68-59 lead entering the fourth period. The Archers never relinquished the lead from that point onward.
Baldwin knew at some point the Green Archers would make a run and he was actually frightened when his Blue Eagles erected a huge lead early in the game.
“I’m the coach that hates big leads. Big leads, especially in the first half, scare the hell out of me. It’s always a good tactic to use against me,” said the former Gilas Pilipinas mentor.
“I’m not sure it’s youth (of Ateneo) as much as I think La Salle’s championship experience showed. And our lack of it may have showed,” he added.
Thirdy Ravena was steady for the Blue Eagles in the first two games while Aaron Black was the other lone bright spot for Ateneo in Game 2 with 15 points off the bench.
After scoring 11 points in their 76-70 win in Game 1, Mike Nieto was a non-factor and same with Vince Tolentino, who had nine in the series opener but was held down to just two in 21 minutes.
Still, Baldwin is not losing hope for the Blue Eagles, who will try again on Sunday to bag the school’s ninth UAAP title and its first since 2012.
“I still think that’s (Game 2 loss) a positive. I think that helps and I hopefully it will help enough to be one of the factors that gets us across the finish line on Sunday,” said Baldwin.
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