Several things served as thorns in Ateneo de Manila University’s side in its 74-81 overtime loss to University of the Philippines in the curtain-opener of the UAAP Season 84 Men’s Basketball Finals.
The offense of the Blue Eagles wasn’t at its best; they missed the production of Dave Ildefonso who greatly struggled on Sunday evening. He saw himself limited to only six points and committed six turnovers – down from his averages of 11.6 points prior to this game.
“Dave [Ildefonso] tried to force them a little bit, and some of the turnovers came. I think that got them out of their rhythm, and this is a big moment for him. He just got to settle down and play his normal game, which I’m sure that he will do,” said Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin.
Meanwhile, they saw a bright spot in Chris Koon, who provided quality minutes for the Blue Eagles amid Ildefonso’s struggles. He contributed two points, two rebounds, two steals, and an assist in close to 18 minutes and 30 seconds of action.
Still, Baldwin wants Ildefonso to regain his confidence in order for him to play his usual game and provide the level of production expected of him come Game Two.
“And I think Chris [Koon] came in and did a good job, and Chris was plus seven for the game, so he did gave us some stuff and stabilized this,” he claimed.
“But Dave has just to reflect a little bit, and he has to understand that we belong here, and he belongs here. And he just gotta settle down and play his normal game. I have every confidence that he will do that.”
The Blue Eagles also held their breath midway through the overtime period, as SJ Belangel fell down and had to be carried off the court. Baldwin shared that his starting point guard suffered a sprained ankle. He hopes it is nothing too serious that will cause him to miss time in their upcoming games.
“He’s walking around on it, so hopefully the prognosis is going to be good. He didn’t feel anything popped in there,” said a relieved Baldwin.
“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.”
In Game One of the Finals, Baldwin made a couple of adjustments to match up against UP’s tall frontline unit. After giving significant minutes to Matthew Daves and Raffy Verano, the American-Kiwi mentor bared that he will continue to try different combinations. They must limit the rebounding of their opponents, especially Zavier Lucero, who pulled down 13 boards.
“We felt we needed a few things differently with our lineup and in retrospect, maybe we would second guess that,” he said. “But Chris [Koon] really did a good job, he rebounded the ball well. We played Chew [Daves] over Josh [Lazaro] today for rebounding in size ’cause 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.
“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.
“We’re going to have to do some things to counter size, and counter their rebounding because they’ve done it all season and this was not a surprise to us,” Baldwin admitted. “What’s a surprise for it to be so effective when it was our number one key point going into the game. So that’s again a credit to them. Like our guys were not unaware, we weren’t caught by surprise.”
UP won the rebounding battle against Ateneo, 51-50. The Fighting Maroons hauled in 29 offensive rebounds as compared to the Blue Eagles, 24. This also allowed Goldwin Monteverde’s squad to outscore their opponents, 22-11, in terms of second-chance points.
Baldwin also lauded the impressive performance of UP’s frontline. Zavier Lucero put up 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Malick Diouf produced 10 points and 15 rebounds. Carl Tamayo also added 10 points and nine rebounds for the Fighting Maroons.
The multi-titled head coach claimed that they will have to find ways to keep up with the opposing bigs. And they will try to find the right combinations that will help them have a better performance in Game Two.
“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,” he opined.
“We have to figure a way to counter that, and that’s the coach’s job and then the players just have to execute,” Baldwin continued.
“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.”