UAAP: Ateneo's Baldwin relieved after 'drama-free' Final 4 game vs. FEU

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 05 2022 12:09 PM

Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin. UAAP Media.
Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin. UAAP Media.

MANILA, Philippines -- Ateneo de Manila University coach Tab Baldwin felt some relief after their UAAP Season 84 Final 4 game against Far Eastern University (FEU) ended with a relatively comfortable victory for his Blue Eagles.

It was the fifth time in the last six seasons that Ateneo had battled FEU in the Final 4, and this time around there was no need for late game heroics as the Blue Eagles pulled away in the second quarter en route to an 85-72 victory.

"I said immediately after the game, I said to [assistant] coach Jon Jacinto, I walked up to him and I said, 'Thank God we didn't have the normal drama that we usually have with FEU in the semifinals'," said Baldwin after they punched their ticket to the finals.

Ateneo and FEU met in the Final 4 every year from 2015 to 2018, with the Tamaraws winning in Season 78, thanks to a Mac Belo game-winner. But the Blue Eagles took their next three Final 4 match-ups, two of which featured do-or-die affairs.

In Season 79, the second-seeded Blue Eagles needed two games to outlast the Tamaraws and return to the UAAP finals. The next season, they were matched up in the Final 4 again and the fourth-seeded Tamaraws pushed the Blue Eagles to a decider anew.

FEU was on the brink of ousting the Blue Eagles before Isaac Go hit a three-pointer to send the game to overtime, where Ateneo hacked out a tight win. 

The meeting between the two teams in the Season 84 finals featured less nervous moments for Ateneo, as they used a big second quarter to gain separation from the Tamaraws. It was similar to their meeting in Season 81 where Thirdy Ravena fueled a quick start for the Blue Eagles en route to an 80-61 win.

"We were able to get that gap in the second quarter, and the game didn't come right down to the wire like it always seems to do with FEU," said Baldwin. "Again, that's just a credit to [FEU coach] Olsen [Racela], the team he puts together, and how tough they are." 

"But fortunately, we played a great second quarter, we played a good basketball game today. We were able to have some space in the score, and have some comfort there. The pressure wasn't on at the end," he added.

Baldwin gave plenty of credit to his assistant coaches for how they were able to prepare the team. Notably, the Blue Eagles were unfazed when the Tamaraws unleashed a full court press; they committed just 11 turnovers in the game, two of which were 24-second violations in the final minute when they opted not to take a shot with the game already decided. 

"A 16-16 first quarter becomes a 33-17 second quarter, and a lot of that had to do with a very, very intelligent, receptive group of players, and a very good assistant coaching staff that did their analysis and did their work," said Baldwin.

"Those two groups work together extremely well, and you know, that second quarter gave us the break that we were looking for. From then, it was just a matter of holding on against what we know is a very, very tough FEU team," he added.

The Blue Eagles are now in the UAAP finals for the fifth season in a row, and are waiting for the winner of the other Final 4 series between De La Salle University and the University of the Philippines.