Baldwin-Ayo: Great side dish in Ateneo-UST finale
John Bryan Ulanday (The Philippine Star) - November 15, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — All the lights may be on the star players of Ateneo and Santo Tomas in the 82nd UAAP men’s basketball tournament finale that unfolds tomorrow.

But gurus, basketball scholars and passionate collegiate hoops fans are also to savor an exciting dish at the sidelines – the coaching duel between Tab Baldwin and Aldin Ayo.

Like their teams who have taken different but equally tough routes on the way to the Last Dance, Baldwin and Ayo sport contrasting yet effective basketball approaches, making  this best-of-three titular showdown a must-see on a coaching perspective.

The American-Kiwi mentor Baldwin has been the barometer among bench tacticians in the league owing to his methodical system for the unbeaten Eagles but the Sorsogon-native Ayo has ascended to be a fitting challenger with an at par resume of his own built on renowned “mayhem,” fast-paced offense-defense approach for the growling Tigers.

Prior to their unexpected finals matchup this year as the fourth-ranked Tigers scaled the gigantic Final Four challenge with three straight wins in three knockout games the past week against higher-seeded teams FEU and UP, both coaches have been singing praises to each other “by bringing UAAP coaching to another level.”

“I just have so much respect for him and the way he does his job and you know, he’s a blessing for Philippine basketball, for the UAAP,” said Baldwin before the back-to-back champion Eagles completed a 14-0 sweep to punch an outright ticket to the finals.

Ayo returned the favor on the veteran international mentor: “Nothing but respect for coach Tab. He made the UAAP better. He raised the level of competition. He made the players better, not only his players but the other players. He made the coaches better. On my part, I love the challenge and I’m growing because of him.”

But praises and admiration have to be set aside as Baldwin and Ayo start their duel.

Baldwin is looking for his third straight title with Ateneo while Ayo is eyeing to be the first mentor to have won championships with three different collegiate quads after towing Letran to the 2015 NCAA championship and La Salle to the UAAP title in 2016.

And the two coaches are to break their deadlock. They have had title showdowns in 2016 and 2017, with Ayo winning the UAAP diadem for La Salle in the first duel then Baldwin getting his revenge for Ateneo the following year. And so they’re in for a tiebreaker.

NOTES: UP might be in for an overhaul as coach Bo Perasol admitted having uncertainties with his future in Diliman after a disappointing season. “For me, if you ask me, I want to rest from these. I just want to watch. I have to talk to them (UP administration). I have to make a decision on what direction I would be taking personally and team-wise,” he said after losing their semis  versus UST.

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