Stakes are high as rivals De La Salle University and Ateneo de Manila University clash in the penultimate eliminations playdate of the UAAP Season 86 Men’s Basketball Tournament on Saturday at the historic SMART Araneta Coliseum.
The Green Archers aim to clinch at least a playoff for a twice-to-beat incentive in the next round.
On the other hand, the Blue Eagles are fighting for the last available ticket in the Final Four.
With so much on the line, head coaches Topex Robinson and Tab Baldwin shift the focus from the rivalry. Instead, they prefer to push the spotlight onto their respective teams’ growth down the stretch.
Robinson, coach of the hot La Salle team on a seven-game winning streak, reminded his players that this game is not about getting even with Ateneo, which defeated them in the first round, 77-72.
“We tried to eliminate the revenge vocabulary from our system. We just want to be the better team come Saturday,” said Robinson, the first-year coach.
“Whoever the team we’re going to play, just happens to be Ateneo, and it just so happens that they’re the last team we’re going to play. A team that beat us in the first round shouldn’t define how we’re going to approach this Saturday’s game.”
After a shaky first round, the Kevin Quiambao-led Green Archers zoned in. They have yet to experience a loss in the second round, winning their games with an average margin of 13.33 points.
Business as usual for La Salle, as a win – coupled with a University of the Philippines victory against National University on Sunday – will give the Green Archers the automatic second seed, not needing a playoff anymore.
Even if the Bulldogs win against the Fighting Maroons, resulting in a triple tie at the top, the Green Archers will have an advantage in the quotient system unless NU wins by more than 38 points.
“It should always be just doing our best, outworking the other team. I know there’s going to be a lot of distraction coming into this Saturday’s game, but it shouldn’t affect us, and make our circle solid that whatever challenge that we’re going to face, we get to get better because after that, you play on the next playing date,” said Robinson.
“We don’t want how we play on Saturday as a team to define us. It will never be revenge; it is just that we want to compete against one of the best teams in the UAAP. Yun yung lagi naming iniisip every time we play Ateneo, they are worthy rivals,” he continued.
Meanwhile, for Baldwin, it’s about going back to the drawing board for his Blue Eagles, who are also streaking with three straight wins.
The four-time UAAP champion tactician downplayed their consecutive wins against the University of Santo Tomas, Adamson University, and the University of the East, all settled by eight points or less.
Baldwin shrugged off the comments that ‘Ateneo is peaking at the right time.’ He even admitted that his young Eagles need more games and practice together to really jell.
Instead, he went back to their main theme since the preseason, which is growth.
“Rather than talk about peaking, I would go back to a theme that we’ve been talking about all year long, and that’s growth,” said the American-Kiwi coach.
With the chemistry of his players still nowhere near where he would like it to be, Baldwin and the Blue Eagles will take it one game at a time.
It will be either a Final Four ticket or needing to figure in a playoff for the last postseason berth for Ateneo.
“Hopefully, we’re still growing, which is important, but I don’t think that we will be peaking anytime soon. We certainly need some really good performances, but this team should be largely intact next year, and consequently, we should see the same group of players play much better basketball next year than they’re playing this year, but that doesn’t solve anything for this year,” said Baldwin.
“We have to get on the drawing board and we have to look at how we’re going to play well against La Salle and get out and do that.”