Ateneo seeks page in history
John Bryan Ulanday (The Philippine Star) - November 20, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Ateneo tries to reach unparalled heights today when it shoots for a historic sweep of the entire 82nd UAAP men’s basketball tournament. 

The Eagles, unbeaten in 25 consecutive games, incuding 11 in the closing stages of the previous season, meets feisty Santo Tomas in Game 2 of the best-of-three finals at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Tip-off is at 4 p.m. with the Katipunan-based squad eyeing to duplicate their masterful 91-77 victory in  Game 1 to wrap up arguably the greatest season in the history of the local collegiate basketball scene.

Multiple teams have actually completed a perfect run in the UAAP, from Baby Dalupan’s UE squad in late 1960s to the great FEU teams of the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

Santo Tomas, led by legendary coach Aric del Rosario and slotman Dennis Espino, was the last squad to achieve a sweep in 1993.

But all of these fabled squads never went as far as 16-0 as old rules stated that any team that goes undefeated in the elims will be automatically declared champion, leaving the door open for coach Tab Baldwin’s Blue Eagles to be on top of the UAAP honor roll. 

As big as the pressure is for the back-to-back champion Eagles, Baldwin reminded his wards to just focus on winning the championship, nothing more and nothing less.

“If we win it, whatever people want to say after that game is up to their perceptions of this team,” said Baldwin, looking to tow Ateneo to its third straight title and 11th overall.

“Believe me, we just want to play this game well. Win the game and whatever comes with that, comes with that. We don’t want our focus on anything else. Especially any talk about records or anything like that. Let’s just play this game and do the best we can.”

Still, taking care of business against the Tigers, who have shown resiliency all season long highlighted by their magical run in the stepladder semifinals, will not be a walk in the park, Baldwin noted. 

“Our team has a lot of respect for their players and their coaching staff. We know we’re in for a really tough game in Game 2,” he added. “I told our guys before Game 1, that’s a must-win game for us and I don’t see Wednesday’s game any different. We need to have the attitude that it is a must-win game.”

On the Tigers’ den, fatigue may have taken its toll on them, but coach Aldin Ayo vowed no surrender. 

“The finals is a different atmosphere. But as I told you, we have to be patient. Whatever it is, you can’t blame the players. It’s our job to simulate things and we’re going to do that in Game 2,” said Ayo.

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