MANILA, Philippines — With a chance to regain their place atop the UAAP men’s basketball, the Ateneo Blue Eagles will leave everything on the floor as they battle University of the Philippines in another Game 3 ending for the crown on Monday.
In the Blue Eagles’ sixth consecutive finals, Baldwin is set to coach his second do-or-die UAAP championship game after winning his them against the Aldin Ayo-coached La Salle in Season 80 but losing the decider against the Fighting Maroons after a heartbreaking championship-clinching three by JD Cagulangan in May.
The Ateneo coach anticipates a pressure-pack Game 3 on Monday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“I’ve been in a few Game 3s. There’s a lot of pressure. [When] you see that UP crowd, that is a lot of pressure. I’m glad I coach Ateneo. The way they do things over there, there’s gonna be some heat in that house,” said Baldwin after a 65-55 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday in front of 20,616 fans at the Big Dome. “There’s pressure on our team, there’s pressure on us. But when I said we have the DNA of underdogs, I wasn’t joking.”
“Of course, we’re not gonna give anything away. We’re gonna come to fight. And now I think we have every reason in the world to fight, and we have every reason in the world to believe. They have their own decisions to make over [there].”
Ateneo may be eyeing to redeem itself from a heartbreaking Finals loss five months ago, but the Kiwi-American coach stressed this season’s no-tomorrow Game 3 is a different story for both teams.
“I don’t think last season has anything to do with this season at all. I’ve already said even though UP team looks almost exactly the same as the UP team from last year, it’s a different team. They do different things. I never liked the concept of defending champion. We don’t think that we are cursed by last season, and we don’t think UP deserves to be champions this season because they were champions last season. They gotta earn it, they know that. We have to earn it, we know that,” Baldwin said.
“Let it be Season 85, not 84. This stands on its own, and I think it’s gonna be a wild game on Monday. It would be fun.”
The three-time UAAP champion coach was proud of his team’s effort in Game 2, especially on the defensive end, to live another day. But he insisted that UP coach Goldwin Monteverde will make huge adjustments, especially Zavier Lucero out due to a left knee ACL injury.
“We know that that’s an outstanding basketball team. That’s an outstanding coaching staff, they make tremendous adjustments, and we expect that there will be some adjustments. It’s back to the drawing board now, and it’s trying to anticipate. They’ll try to anticipate our adjustments, ’cause we will make adjustments. Even though we won, it won’t be the same template,” said Baldwin. “As a coach, it’s fun. It’s hard because young players don’t always execute things that well. I was beside myself most of the game, trying to get an execution. But the effort was off the charts.”
Baldwin hopes their final game this year will be fairly officiated.
“In games like these, refereeing becomes such a huge factor. And I know the referees want to give us a good game. I know both teams and both coaching staffs, they want consistent refereeing. And it’s really tough on those guys. So, I sympathize with them… The players and the coaches and probably even the referees are still trying to figure out what is legal contact and what is illegal contact. We’re all striving to understand what the consistency of that should be. And, it’s a huge challenge,” the Ateneo coach said.
“Game 3 is gonna get even more physical. It’s gonna get even tougher. And I don’t think anybody wants to see Ange Kouame, Malick Diouf, Carl Tamayo, Kai Ballungay, Josh Lazaro — I could go on — BJ Andrade, sitting on the bench in a Game 3 [of the] Finals. You don’t wanna see that. But at the same time, it can’t be open warfare out on the court.”
“We’ll just have to see how that plays out. But I know everybody will be — both camps will be talking about it, and we hope and pray that everybody can bring their best in Game 3,” he added.
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