UAAP: UP’s title ‘felt like destiny,’ admits Ateneo’s Baldwin

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 14 2022 12:56 AM

UAAP Media.
Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin with assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga during Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UAAP Media.

MANILA, Philippines – Tab Baldwin's prediction for Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals came true: it was, indeed, an epic game.

Forty minutes were not enough to determine a winner between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, and even in overtime it was not decided until the final second.

Unfortunately for Baldwin and the Blue Eagles, they were on the losing end this time around, as JD Cagulangan nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift UP to a 72-69 win and its first UAAP championship in 36 years.

"I think for anybody to try and encapsulate their thoughts in a couple of minutes about that game, it would be somehow doing a disservice to the game. It was an epic game," said Baldwin, who had anticipated as much after Ateneo won Game 2 to force a decider.

Baldwin said that he was proud of the Blue Eagles, who weathered an error-prone game to come oh-so-close to a fourth consecutive championship. 

"But I acknowledge that UP's fighting spirit was... It just felt like destiny," the Ateneo coach also admitted.

"You know, the shots they hit, those aren't shots that normal teams make in normal games, much less than in a championship game," he noted.

Baldwin was referring not just to Cagulangan's championship-winning shot. In regulation, they had a 59-56 lead with under a minute to go when CJ Cansino banked in a three-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game.

In overtime, Ateneo built a 69-64 lead and was seconds away from making another stop when Cagulangan saved the ball and beat the shot-clock with an awkward three-pointer. The big shot lifted the Fighting Maroons' spirits, sparking an 8-0 run to end the game.

UAAP Media.
The Ateneo Blue Eagles saw their run as UAAP champions come to an end after three seasons. UAAP Media.

"You just got to give a lot of credit to their players and their coaches, and I wish that they enjoy this championship. They worked extremely hard for it, they had a great season," Baldwin said of UP.

"They had an unbelievable final series and you know, we just weren't quite good enough when we needed to be good enough," he added.

The Maroons won three of their five encounters against Ateneo this season. They ended the Blue Eagles' 39-game winning streak last May 1, then stunned them in overtime of Game 1 of the Finals. Ateneo showed its championship spirit in Game 2, holding off UP for a 69-66 win that forced the do-or-die game.

But in the deciding game, the Maroons were one shot better than the Blue Eagles, and it ended Ateneo's reign as UAAP champions.

"It's a razor thin difference between the two teams, but certainly the feeling and the two locker rooms couldn't be further apart than what they are," said Baldwin.

"So I just wish them congratulations. I wish them well for their celebrations, stay safe and you know, it's all of their fans and supporters," he added. "It's a great moment in UP basketball history, and I think we all have to acknowledge that for them."

As for Ateneo, it's time to "lick our wounds," said Baldwin.

"We'll have a couple of weeks off," he said. "They have final exams now and very soon, we'll be, we'll be back on the court preparing for the next season."