Heading into the UAAP Season 81 Men’s Basketball Finals, the main storyline was the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. In this case, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons were the force, while the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles were the object.
Something had to give.
Game One last Saturday showed just that.
Willed by a passionate fanbase, the Fighting Maroons showed that they are no longer pushovers, weathering everything the Blue Eagles threw at them.
“Coming into the Finals, alam namin na they’re still on that momentum na nakuha nila versus Adamson. Hindi madali ang ginawa nila, it was two grind out games,” shared Ateneo senior Thirdy Ravena.
“No question, I think that UP deserves to be in the Finals,” added Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, as the Fighting Maroons survived four knockout games to get to this point.
But in the biggest of games, it’s the stars that come out to shine.
In this case, it was the championship experience of Ravena and Matt Nieto that gave Ateneo the edge – especially in the end game. The 6-foot-3 utility forward ended up with a line of 21 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, while the 6-foot floor general tallied a career-high 27 points. Together, they led the Blue Eagles to an 88-79 Game One win.
“Tough game, tough game,” reflected Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin. “And I think that the outcome was in doubt probably up until the last couple of minutes.
“Again our defense just didn’t do its job, and physicality of the game I think was something we’re not used to.”
And it’s not because of sheer talent, according to the one-time UAAP gold medalist Ravena. It’s because they needed to find their extra gear in practice to combat the willpower of the Fighting Maroons.
“What we did was we prepared everything we needed to prepare for in terms of our team. The following days, we prepared for UP kasi alam namin they’re coming in with momentum na nakakatakot na kalaban. Minsan, ‘di mo malalaman, nangyayari sa court, ‘di na sila nagmimintis tapos ‘di sila napapagod kasi ganadong-ganado sila,” shared the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball Finals Most Valuable Player.
“We had to guard ourselves against that with preparation.”
Moreover, for Ravena, any of the Blue Eagles could have had the lines he and Nieto posted. It just so happened that they pulled it off.
“Sa laro kasi, hindi mo alam kung anong mangyayari. It just happened na talagang inangat kami ni Matt nung second half. He led us in terms of offense, with tempo, and also with defense,” he added.
“‘Di namin ine-expect yung outcome in terms of individual performance, but inexpect namin talaga na may mag-step up.”
Come Game Two, the Blue Eagles will enter the game with the same mindset they had all season long: next man up.
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