UAAP: Ateneo, UP brace for ‘potentially epic’ Game 3

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 13 2022 05:56 AM

UP rookie Carl Tamayo challenges the defense of Ateneo's Ange Kouame and Josh Lazaro in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UAAP Media.
UP rookie Carl Tamayo challenges the defense of Ateneo's Ange Kouame and Josh Lazaro in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UAAP Media

MANILA, Philippines -- No less than Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin is bracing for a "potentially epic" game when his Blue Eagles face off against the University of the Philippines for the fifth and final time in UAAP Season 84.

The Battle of Katipunan will be decided on Friday at Mall of Asia Arena, as the Season 84 Finals is headed to a deciding third game with the winner emerging as UAAP champions.

Game time is at 6 p.m.

Facing a do-or-die situation for the first time since 2017, Ateneo pulled off a 69-66 victory against the Fighting Maroons on Wednesday, behind a sensational performance from newly-crowned Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame.

That leveled the series at one game apiece. UP and Ateneo have so far split their four meetings this year, with three of those encounters going down the wire.

Baldwin, seeking a fourth consecutive title with the Blue Eagles, has compared the Finals series to their encounter against De La Salle University in UAAP Season 80. That series went the distance, with Ateneo hacking out a win in Game 3 thanks to an iconic three-pointer by big man Isaac Go.

"Very much like the La Salle series, it's tough," Baldwin said of their current encounter against UP. "If ever there was a flip of the coin, this Game 3 could be that."

UP has shown that no lead is safe against them. They rallied from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter of Game 1 to force overtime, where they eventually took an 81-74 win. In Game 2, they erased a 15-point lead but Ateneo held on in the final minute. 

"The two games were so similar," said Baldwin, who has made the UAAP Finals every year that he's been in charge of the Blue Eagles. "The difference in the game was we made some big plays in the end. In Game 1, they made big plays at the end."

"And apart from that, you can't really separate these two teams very much from one another. So, I think Game 3 is going to be, you know, potentially an epic game," he added. "We're excited that we're there."

UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde maintained an even keel after the Fighting Maroons lost a golden opportunity to end a 36-year title drought. They were within four points with 17 seconds to go, but Ricci Rivero misjudged the time and score and wasted too many seconds before making his move.

Monteverde was clear-eyed in assessing their performance, pointing out the need for a better start as well as more care in ball-handling. The Fighting Maroons had 20 turnovers in Game 2, a pair of which came in the final two minutes that led to crucial Ateneo points.

"'Yung team takes pride in never giving up during games, whatever the score is. Lumalaban kami hanggang dulo," said Monteverde. "Ang gusto naming mangyari sa team, every time after a game, whether we win or we lose, kumbaga kung anong mga mali, anong mga lapses, alam namin na doon kami magi-improve."

"Definitely, we're gonna work on it. Kahit nga 'yung pagitan ng game would be one day lang, but we still talk about things and really work hard for it," he said.

Baldwin is of a similar mindset: though he was pleased with the Blue Eagles' performance in Game 2, he knows that is meaningless heading into the do-or-die game.

"We have to put everything that happened for Game 2 behind us now. And we have a whole new challenge in front of us," he said. 

"So whatever work we did, whatever sacrifices we made over the last few days, and they were significant, we should expect to be facing the same thing."