MANILA – Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin considered his team’s Game 1 loss to the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons a blessing despite being put on the brink of losing the championship.
According to Baldwin, the loss made the team realize its shortcomings and imperfections as a team to make necessary adjustments for Game 2.
True enough, the Blue Eagles held tightly in the crucial final minute of the game to escape the Fighting Maroons, 69-66, and extend the series into a decider on Friday.
“I want to say that the loss in Game 1 is in a way a blessing. It's a blessing because you know, we fail in life. It happens to everybody,” Baldwin told reporters.
“I think that our team, our players, our coaches, we looked at that as an opportunity to grow. We looked at that as a situation in which we had to acknowledge we are not good enough.”
The former Gilas Pilipinas tactician added that those changes propelled them to survive the nerve-wracking match.
Baldwin, likewise, saw a lot of similarities between the two games in the finals series but differed on which team made key plays in the end.
“The difference in the game, we made some big plays in the end and in Game 1 they made big plays in the end. Apart from that, you can't separate these two teams very much from one another,” he said.
UP was on pace to pull off yet another comeback win after erasing a 15-point lead of Ateneo and grabbed the lead with 5:04 left to play courtesy of Carl Tamayo’s triple, 57-56.
But newly-minted MVP Ange Kouame recovered from his missed free throws to regain the upperhand anew before SJ Belangel completed a fast break play at the 2:03 mark for a 65-61 lead.
He also lauded how his players responded to the game, citing big improvement in key statistical categories in the match except their free throw shooting. Ateneo shot 55% in the charity lane in 11 of 20 shooting.
“Tonight, we responded and we did the job in key statistical categories apart from our free throw shooting. Everything else on stat sheets looks pretty good for us,” he admitted.
Meanwhile, Baldwin and the rest of the Ateneo squad are expecting a dogfight against the Fighting Maroons on Friday.
“I think Game 3 is gonna be potentially an epic game. we're excited that we're there,” Baldwin said.
The multi-titled coach also said they are expecting to do more sacrifices before the final showdown, acknowledging that a new challenge from UP awaits them at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“Heading into Game 3, we have to put everything that happened in Game 2 behind us now. We have a whole new challenge in front of us,” he explained.
“Whatever work we did, whatever sacrifices we had the last few days, we should expect to be expecting the same thing.”
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