When Ateneo de Manila University lost its UAAP Season 86 Men’s Basketball Tournament opener last weekend against National University, head coach Tab Baldwin lamented the lack of fight from his team.
However, against arch-rival De La Salle University, the “One Big Fight” returned dramatically to the Blue Eagles’ camp as they pulled off a come-from-behind 77-72 win on Wednesday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Leading the way for Ateneo was Kai Ballungay, who also rebounded from a dismal 0-of-6 shooting performance against the Bulldogs. He contributed 18 points and 16 rebounds, with 12 of them coming on the offensive end.
For his impressive performance on the glass, Ballungay was compared by Baldwin to former Blue Eagles foreign student-athlete and Gilas Pilipinas naturalized center Ange Kouame.
“Big shout out to the guy on my right (Kai Ballungay). 12 offensive rebounds out of 27. 27 is a massive offensive rebounding performance, which indicates that our guys came to battle,” said the long-time Ateneo tactician.
“For Kai to pull down 12 of those is — I mean, 12 offensive rebounds, that’s beyond Ange Kouame-esque, and that’s really saying something.”
The rest of the Blue Eagles followed suit as they outrebounded La Salle by a significant margin, 66-50, while also scoring 18 second-chance points.
Nigerian center Joseph Obasa also grabbed 16 rebounds, Chris Koon secured seven, Ian Espinosa collected six, while Mason Amos and Sean Quitevis managed five each.
“We just wanted to show that the guys are fighting and that we can be the ones who take the initiative, be the ones who can be physical,” shared Ballungay.
“I think it really showed tonight, especially on the boards. Our guys did a good job getting to the boards and pulling those rebounds down.”
While securing a win against their rivals felt great, it’s back to the drawing board for the Blue Eagles as they aim to start a winning streak this Saturday against Adamson University at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.
“It feels great as a team; it’s definitely something that boosts our morale moving forward. But we should just take it as one game and keep pushing forward,” closed Ballungay.