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UP favored vs Ateneo in UAAP
UNIVERSITY of the Philippines seeks to end an agonizing 36-year title drought against an Ateneo side suddenly on the brink of ending its stranglehold of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament today at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Having beaten the Blue Eagles twice in a week, the Fighting Maroons will enter the 6 p.m. match on a high, looking upbeat of completing a two-game Finals sweep.
Seeking to become the first rookie coach since La Salle’s Aldin Ayo in 2016 to win a championship right on his first try, Goldwin Monteverde has seemed to found a right ingredient to beat Ateneo.
“I guess naman sa basketball, yung formula is really kung pwede maging consistent sa team and defensively trust each other. Yung communication dapat nandiyan,” said Monteverde after the Maroons pounded out a thrilling 81-74 overtime win over the Eagles last Sunday.
“Wala naman, I think, na perfect formula for anything, but importante lang to be consistent in running what we do,” he added.
Prior to the game, a short awards ceremony will be held at 5 p.m., where the season Most Valuable Player, Mythical Five, and Rookie of the Year winners will be feted.
If Game 1 was a gauge, expect the UP-Ateneo match-up to go down-the-wire.
The past two games saw the Maroons rally from second half double-digit deficits – 14 against the Green Archers in the Final Four decider and 12 against the Eagles in the Finals opener.
Graduating guard Ricci Rivero, who scored a team-high 19 points in the series opener, knows that it’s all about getting the job done and giving UP its first crown since 1986.
“For me, I don’t wanna think about if you’re up by one, one game or not or whether we’re up, and during the games or we’re down. It has to come from us na to really want it more, more than the other team for us to be able to get the win,” said Rivero, who won a UAAP title for La Salle in 2016 before moving to Diliman.
“It doesn’t really give us the confidence, like legit confidence na, okay we’re up by one, we’re gonna win this. It’s not gonna really matter,” he added.
“For me, minsan nagiging hindrance pa siya dun pa sa gagawin namin na dapat. For me, mas gusto ko isipin as 0-0 ulit kami after this for us to be able to have that good and right mindset coming to Game 2.”
A master of adjustments but was outwitted by Monteverde in the opener, coach Tab Baldwin is looking forward to modifying his rotation in Ateneo’s first elimination game since 2017.
“We felt we needed a few things differently with our lineup and in retrospect, maybe we would second guess that,” said Baldwin.
“But Chris (Koon) really did a good job, he rebounded the ball well. We played Chew (Matthew Daves) over Josh (Lazaro) today for rebounding in size because we needed that, and Raffy (Verano) really struggled with size. (Zavier) Lucero got rebounds and Raffy’s a really good rebounder, but Lucero beat him to the ball a few times,” he added.
The Eagles are hoping to find an antidote on how to neutralize the Maroons’ twin towers of Malick Diouf and Carl Tamayo.
“The size was an issue for us, and we have to kind of figure out what we’re gonna do. We may even play Geo (Chiu) and Ange (Kouame) together,” said Baldwin.
Game 3, if necessary, will be played at 6 p.m. on Friday at the same Pasay venue.
“It’s a three-game series for a reason. So we intend to work our tails off and get this thing to a third game and do the very best we can to win the championship,” said Baldwin, who debuted in the UAAP in 2016 with a Finals loss to the Archers before winning three in a row. By Theodore Jurado