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Ateneo finds match in UP
ATENEO, now facing its backs against the wall in the UAAP men’s basketball Finals, has found its match against the vaunted University of the Philippines frontline.
Coach Tab Baldwin admitted that the Blue Eagles’ bigs need to find ways to neutralize the Fighting Maroons’ trio of Malick Diouf, Carl Tamayo and Zavier Lucero if they want to extend their dynastic reign.
In UP’s 81-74 overtime win Sunday night, Lucero rebounded from his dismal outing in the Final Four decider against La Salle by putting up 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Senegal’s Diouf also produced a double-double with 10 points and 15 rebounds, while Tamayo added 10 points, including a fastbreak lay-up that gave the Maroons a 79-74 cushion late in the game, and nine rebounds.
“They just did a heck of a job just rebounding the ball, and I know they would like to shoot the ball better for sure. But the fact that it almost feels like sometimes they just throw it up there, confident that Malik (Diouf) or Carl (Tamayo) or Zav (Lucero) is just gonna get a second opportunity out of it. There’s nothing wrong with that when you have that much belief on your frontline rebounding,” said Baldwin.
“We have to figure a way to counter that, and that’s the coach’s job and then the players just have to execute. So I think that kinda summarizes why some of our rotations were different, but of course, we will review that, and we’ll see what we needed to do better next time,” the Kiwi-American mentor added.
It is the first time that Ateneo has lost back-to-back games – both at the expense of UP – since 2016. The last time Eagles lost two in a row was when they were swept by the Green Archers in the Season 79 Finals.
Baldwin hopes that his starting point guard SJ Belangel, who suffered a sprained ankle in the extra period, will suit up in Game 2 set at 6 p.m. tomorrow at the Mall of Asia Arena. Belangel finished with 17 points in the series opener.
“He’s walking around on it, so hopefully the prognosis is going to be good. He didn’t feel anything popped in there,” said Baldwin on Belangel.
“It’s obviously not good to go down in pain with a sprained ankle. But he’s a tough kid and he’ll do whatever it takes to get himself right for the next game,” he added.
The last time a team won a championship after losing Game 1 was in 2014, when National University ended a 60-year title drought by winning Games 2 and 3 after bowing to Far Eastern University in the Season 77 Finals opener.
The deciding Game 3, if necessary, will be played on Friday.