MANILA, Philippines -- Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin commended his players for taking advantage of their opportunities after the Blue Eagles crushed their arch rivals, the De La Salle Green Archers, on Saturday night.
It was a battle of two of the best defensive teams in the league, as La Salle owned the No. 1 defensive rating entering the game (81.9) while Ateneo was in second place (85.1).
But the defending champions stood tall at the end of the game. The Blue Eagles orchestrated a masterful second half to pull away for a 74-57 victory, handing La Salle their first loss of UAAP Season 84 while improving their record to 4-0.
"Tough game. I mean, it was a game where it was never comfortable until the very end," Baldwin said afterward. "I think we just kept squeezing and squeezing and squeezing, and we rebounded the ball so much better in the fourth quarter."
"I think that was the difference," he added.
La Salle got to within one point in the third frame, 42-41, but the Blue Eagles were unfazed and uncorked a 16-4 blast to end the quarter. They led 58-45 after three, and the Green Archers were unable to climb out of the hole.
Baldwin commended the defense played by both squads, but was more than pleased with how they responded on the other end of the floor in the second half of the game.
"First half was a real grind, I think for both teams. We both went into the locker room kind of scratching our heads about how we were gonna try and play better basketball," he said.
"Fortunately, we hit some shots, and we got loose for a few layups in the second half," he added.
Baldwin pointed out that the Blue Eagles were 10-of-10 on uncontested field goals, which netted them 23 points. In contrast, they gave up just two uncontested field goals to La Salle, which gave the Green Archers only five points.
Tyler Tio and SJ Belangel were especially influential in the third quarter, with the former scoring two triples and the latter beating his defenders for easy layups to help Ateneo pull ahead.
"In a game like that, it didn't feel like there were many of those [uncontested shots], so when we had opportunities and produced those, they meant a lot in terms of the outcome of the game," Baldwin said.
"So you just have to keep grinding away when a team is a tough defensive team. And you know, to the credit of our players, they did that," he added.
The Blue Eagles have now made it 30 victories in a row since 2018, including their perfect 16-0 run in UAAP Season 82. But Baldwin warns that the road only gets tougher from here on out, starting with a date against National University on Tuesday.
"I think both teams played themselves to a standstill. It was a great Ateneo-La Salle game, I think. And, we're tickled to death that we came out on top," he said.
"Now, we look forward to NU on Tuesday. They had a great win, so it doesn't get any easier," he added.