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Tiebreaker Times


UP much deeper now but Ateneo has ‘DNA of underdogs’, says Baldwin

Ever since Tab Baldwin became Ateneo de Manila University coach seven years ago, he has brought the Blue Eagles to the finals of each campaign and won three championships in the process.

Now in the UAAP Season 85 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Baldwin’s latest trip to the big dance has come after his Blue Eagles dismantled Adamson University, 81-60.

As a reward, they book a mouth-watering series against defending champions University of the Philippines.

It only feels like yesterday when JD Cagulangan’s endgame heroics won the Fighting Maroons their first UAAP title in 36 years. Now, both teams are gunning for the crown again, just seven months later.

UAAP-84-MBB-ADMU-vs.-UP-Finals-G3-Joel-Cagulangan-1246 UP much deeper now but Ateneo has 'DNA of underdogs', says Baldwin ADMU Basketball News UAAP  - philippine sports news

“That Ateneo team in May had a lot more experience than this team,” said Baldwin.

“But I think this team has the DNA of underdogs, and I don’t think the team in May did.

“I think there was a sense of ownership of the title, and we learned in a very, very hard way that nobody owns the title. Every season, you’re not a defending champion. You’re a new team playing for a new championship,” he continued.

We may have lost sight of that last season, Season 84.”

In the aftermath of that defeat, there were question marks about how Ateneo would perform to their high standards. The likes of Tyler Tio, Raffy Verano, and Gian Mamuyac moved on from the team as expected at the end of the campaign.

The Blue Eagles program then had a curve ball thrown at it. SJ Belangel decided to turn pro by joining Daegu KOGAS instead of returning for this season.

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With them gone, though, the likes of Forthsky Padrigao, Dave Ildefonso, BJ Andrade, Chris Koon, and Ange Kouame were left to pick up the pieces and steer the team back on track.

Instead of a team that had a target on its back, the Katipunan school became a hunter that looked to feast on the weaknesses of its opponents. In a sense, coming in as a title contender rather than defending champion had its own blessings.

UAAP-85-MBB-F4-ADMU-vs.-ADU-Dave-Ildefonso-9986 UP much deeper now but Ateneo has 'DNA of underdogs', says Baldwin ADMU Basketball News UAAP  - philippine sports news

“This team certainly doesn’t have that perspective. They know that, attitudinally… They know that they don’t have any margin of error, and they played that way today,” he said.

“We need to play that way again on Sunday and every game of this finals. Maybe resolve is the word we’re looking for. This team has a resolve to prove themselves because they haven’t yet. If we’re gonna win a championship, we need to.”

If Ateneo had to reload during the off-season, UP simply needed to retain its core, and for good reason. The Fighting Maroons’ lineup ended a championship drought that spanned almost four decades. Why fix something that is not broken?

Despite that, Ateneo has proven it can beat UP by virtue of the former’s 75-67 win over the latter last November 26. There may be new faces representing the Blue Eagles this time around but the will and capability to win remain there to be seen.

UAAP-85-MBB-F4-UP-vs.-NU-Cyril-Gonzales-8932 UP much deeper now but Ateneo has 'DNA of underdogs', says Baldwin ADMU Basketball News UAAP  - philippine sports news

“Not a lot of difference, to be honest. Just better,” said the former New Zealand national team coach. “I think the way (Cyril) Gonzales is playing right now, that really just deepens its guard lineup, which is a special guard lineup when you’ve got Cagulangan, (Gerry) Abadiano, (Terrence) Fortea, Gonzales, and (James) Spencer… Should I go on? (Harold) Alarcon.

“All of these guys are elite UAAP players. All these guys have big futures in the professional ranks… They’re really, really tough. I think that’s probably the word, that if we can find that, then we can compete.

“It’s not the toughness you need to put up with some of the physicality in the UAAP that I think is ridiculous, to be honest. It’s the mental toughness to withstand the pressure UP can put on you,” he added.

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The Blue Eagles will understandably be out to redeem themselves and they will need to give everything in order to succeed.

UAAP-85-MBB-F4-ADMU-vs.-ADU-Gab-Gomez-9828 UP much deeper now but Ateneo has 'DNA of underdogs', says Baldwin ADMU Basketball News UAAP  - philippine sports news

“If we can be a 40-minute team, there’s a lot of quality basketball in this basketball team. We had 21 assists again today. When we decide to move the ball and find the open guy, there will be open players,” he said.

“If we execute, people will be open. We have to find them and hit shots. If we do that, I’m pretty confident our defense will show up. But that’s why we’re gonna play it to find out.”

Written By

Just a kid from Cavite trying to make a difference.

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