The ultimate chess match had to have a victor
Two of the brightest minds in Philippine basketball turned the hard courts into canvases, producing two masterful games that brought the best out of the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles and the Far Eastern University Tamaraws. However, there could only be one victor.
In a series that went down the wire, with both games ending by just a one-point margin, it was Tab Baldwin and the Blue Eagles who came out on top for the right to face the De La Salle University Green Archers in the finale of the UAAP Season 79 Men’s Basketball tournament.
“Shot went down. I don’t think you can separate these two teams with a sledgehammer and a crowbar. We were that close,” said first-year Ateneo head coach Baldwin after Ateneo’s 69-68 overtime win.
The deciding game was an instant classic that saw 21 lead changes and nine deadlocks.
For 45 minutes, the two master tacticians adjusted at every possible moment, from wonderfully weaved offensive plays to hard-nosed defensive schemes. They weren’t just playing cards, they were playing poker. The instant classic then came down to one possession.
With seven seconds remaining on the game clock and Ateneo up by just a solitary point, Thirdy Ravena fumbled the ball, leading to a steal by Monbert Arong. However, Ron Dennison’s jumper came half-a-second too late, as Ateneo escaped a potential heartbreak at the hands of their tormentors from a season ago.
“I think we made the last shot… they made the last shot, but it was half a second too late,” the American-Kiwi reflected. “Two really tough defensive teams, two teams that played with a lot of heart, a lot of pride, two schools that continue to represent themselves at this level with a lot of spirit and pride and determination.”
“All the things that we love sports for was on display today.”
However, Baldwin’s victory had come at the expense of FEU head coach Nash Racela.
Ever since the former National Team mentor arrived in Manila back in 2013, the two have become colleagues under Gilas Pilipinas and the TNT Katropa banner. The two shared more than a few good laughs during practices and probably a couple of beers as well. They learned from each other and eventually became good friends.
After the post-game press conference of Ateneo, Baldwin immediately rushed to the Tamaraws’ locker room to congratulate his friend for an amazing series and an even better UAAP career.
“My heart goes out to Coach Nash. What an outstanding job, and what an outstanding coach he is,” Baldwin remarked about Racela who was also celebrating his 45th birthday that day. “Forget the job that he did today and throughout the series.”
“The guy is a class person and he is an outstanding coach. Anybody that says anything different, they should shut their mouth real fast. And just all my congratulations and full credit to the Tamaraws. Tremendous opponent and every bit as good as we were. I don’t think anybody deserved to lose today.”
And no one really deserved to lose in that series. But for everyone involved, it only made them better individuals compared to the person that they were before it, including Tab and Nash.