Eagles-Tigers in UAAP Finals: Histo-three or UST?

Rick Olivares - Philstar.com
Eagles-Tigers in UAAP Finals: Histo-three or UST?
Thirdy Ravena and the Ateneo Blue Eagles will take on the UST Growling Tigers in the UAAP finals.
Philstar.com / Erwin Cagadas

MANILA, Philippines — Histo-three or UST?

That is the question.

Ateneo de Manila University versus the University of Santo Tomas. Such a compelling matchup from so many angles.

There is the three-peat-seeking Blue Eagles, undefeated at 14-0, and a perfect 7-7 in their past seven tournaments in all competitions. Another title would give the Katipunan-based squad their 11th UAAP men’s basketball title and 25th overall, the NCAA included. No collegiate team has as many.

If they win it, this will be their third three-peat since it was accomplished in 1931-34 and 2008-10.

For the Growling Tigers, if they win it all, it will be their 19th in the UAAP and 20th overall to add to their one NCAA championship that was won in 1930. If they do win, it will be their first since 2006 when Pido Jarencio’s Tigers upset the league-leading Ateneo team. 

If they win, they will be the second team in UAAP men’s basketball history to win via step-ladder format and an awaiting undefeated team (La Salle knocked down undefeated UE in the 2007 Finals in two games).

Laterally, in women’s volleyball, Ateneo came up in the 2014 finals to topple Adamson, NU, and then undefeated La Salle to win their first ever crown. The next year, they went undefeated and although they waited, they did not succumb and beat back DLSU (the second seed) to win their second crown.

There have been other cases where the undefeated team in the step-ladder format lost in Game One but came back to win the next games to grab the title. The Ateneo Blue Eaglets have done that thrice. 

However, this will be the first time in the seniors division where the finals is no longer a thrice-to-beat advantage for the erstwhile undefeated team. It is a best-of-three series.

At this point, no one knows. Trending and momentum though may favor UST (if we are referring ONLY to men’s basketball).

Once more, laterally, Thomasians may take heart from their brother school Letran’s win over erstwhile undefeated San Beda. Should both Letran and UST pull off the incredible against two Manny Pangilinan-backed squads, then it is unprecedented and will be a Dominican Double.

That isn’t the only sub-plot heading into this tantalizing series.

There is the matchup between Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin and UST tactician Aldin Ayo. As of this writing, Baldwin has the upper hand in UAAP matches, 8-5, dating back to Season 79. In championship matches, they are 1-1. You can say that this is the rubber match.

These past four years, Baldwin has been heaped with praises for how he whipped into sharp shape an underachieving, demoralized team into winners. 

For his part, Ayo, well, he picked up a Letran team that was ripe to win it all and was put together by other coaches. Even in La Salle, everyone was in place. That isn’t to take anything away from him. He still won it. However, this UST team, warts and all, was his to put together. 

And the team from Katipunan saw that as early as the D-League, this UST squad is a force to be reckoned with. 

This is the first year where opposing teams didn’t have to complain about an Ayo team using roughhousing tactics (well, there are moments) as he has really buckled down to coach. It has handsomely paid dividends.

However, as we previously mentioned, wherever this finals series ends, Ayo will come out looking really good. A win means he will be the first coach to win a title with three different teams. A loss, well, one can still say that no one expected UST to be here (although basketball observers would say that as early as the preseason, they were title contenders).

For Baldwin, yes, there is pressure for him to win and not be upstaged considering everything that has been won and accomplished over the last several years. 

And basketball is a fickle and cruel game. A win here — you look good. A loss — well, it depends on the circumstances. As many coaches like to say, you are only as good as your last win.

Game One is the key. Will Ateneo be rusty from the long lay-off? Will UST have tired legs? 

Whoever wins Game One will win it all. 

Next up: Breaking down the matchup.

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