MANILA, Philippines – In the wake of a bitter, costly defeat to their archrivals in the biggest stage of them all, the Ateneo Blue Eagles took comfort in one thought.
They have been in this situation before.
From being on the verge of sweeping De La Salle University in the UAAP Season 80 finals, Ateneo now finds itself dragged into a do-or-die game – with the Green Archers clearly owning the momentum after erasing a 21-point deficit in their 92-83 Game 2 victory.
“Masakit lang naman dito sa game na ito is, lumamang na kami ng 21 points, and then nawala pa,” said Ateneo captain Mike Nieto, who failed to build on his strong effort in Game 1 and was scoreless on Wednesday.
Yet Nieto remains guardedly optimistic, and with good reason. The Blue Eagles have already proven once before that they can triumph in a do-or-die situation, even if they had to go through the proverbial eye of the needle to do so.
“Napagdaanan na namin ito against FEU,” he says.
“Big Mike” was referring to their thrilling final 4 series against Far Eastern University, which saw the top-seeded Blue Eagles lose to the Tamaraws in the first game.
In the winner-takes-all contest, they trailed by three points with 14 seconds before being bailed out by Isaac Go’s instantly iconic triple; Ateneo then completed the comeback in overtime.
That experience – playing in a high-stakes, emotional game against a tough FEU squad – should only help the Blue Eagles come Game 3 on Sunday against an even tougher La Salle team.
“I think that’s a positive,” Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin said of their final 4 journey. “I think that helps.”
“Hopefully, it will help enough to be one of the factors that gets us across the finish line on Sunday,” he added.
Nieto vows that the Blue Eagles will definitely put up a better fight than they did in Game 2.
“We’ll just enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a do-or-die game for both of us.”
“We promise you guys that we’ll fight, and we’ll get that on Sunday,” he added.
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