Work to do for Blue Eagles’ Ildefonso after faltering in UAAP Finals

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 15 2022 01:58 PM | Updated as of May 15 2022 04:34 PM

Ateneo's Dave Ildefonso walks onto the court with the Blue Eagles in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UAAP Media.
Ateneo's Dave Ildefonso walks onto the court with the Blue Eagles in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UAAP Media.

MANILA, Philippines – When thinking about his team’s defeat in the UAAP Season 84 Finals to University of the Philippines, another loss came to mind for Ateneo swingman Dave Ildefonso.

"Mas masarap ng matalo sa elimination, 'yung mga laglag sa NU [National University], mas gugustuhin ko pa 'yun kesa matalo sa Finals eh," Ildefonso told ABS-CBN News on Saturday, after the Ateneo de Manila University held a Thanksgiving mass for the Blue Eagles at the Church of the Gesu.

One particular game – one particular loss – came to mind for Ildefonso.

"'Yung mga last second shot nila Dounga sa first game pa lang, I'd really rather take that instead of actually losing the finals," he said.

Ildefonso was recalling the NU Bulldogs' 84-83 overtime loss to Adamson University in UAAP Season 82, all the way back in September 2019. That game saw him score 29 points, including a layup that gave NU an 83-81 lead with 1.4 seconds left.

But the Bulldogs gave up a banked-in, buzzer-beating three-pointer to Adamson center Lenda Dounga, the first of a series of heartbreaking losses for the team that season.

Ildefonso would leave National U after that season, transferring to Ateneo de Manila University in January 2020. In his first season with the Blue Eagles, he lived up to expectations and averaged 11.64 points, 5.07 rebounds, and 3.21 assists per game.

Come the UAAP Season 84 Finals against UP, however, Ildefonso faltered. Against a UP defense that packed the paint whenever he drove, Ildefonso averaged just six points on 32% shooting in three games. He contributed 7.3 rebounds and 3.67 assists, but also committed 4.67 turnovers per game in the series.

Ateneo's Dave Ildefonso reacts to a call in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UAAP Media.
Ateneo's Dave Ildefonso reacts to a call in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals. UAAP Media.

"I'm really trying to process it on my own and try to think about what I did wrong, which is a lot of stuff," said Ildefonso of his performance in the Finals.

"You know, I thought I was ready, but I think I need to get with the coaches more. I need to really put this experience in my playing experience, to help me improve better in the upcoming seasons," he added. "I did really horribly in the Finals."

Ildefonso had hoped to build on his bounce-back performance in Game 2, where he put up 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while limiting his turnovers to just three. He had committed six turnovers in Game 1, and Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said that his young forward needed to "settle down."

He couldn't quite get the job done in Game 3. Ildefonso was held to just two points, committing five turnovers. In overtime, he missed the only shot he took as Ateneo gave up the championship-winning three-pointer to UP's JD Cagulangan.

"I'm sure I could have helped even more and I could have changed the outcome. But congrats to UP, UP just really hit shots. Grabe talaga," said Ildefonso, making special mention of UP's CJ Cansino who played through an injury to make crucial baskets in Game 3.

Reflecting on his own poor play, Ildefonso struggled to explain why he performed well below his standards. He has played in a UAAP Finals before, though that was in the juniors division, and has also been called up for Gilas Pilipinas.

"Hindi ko alam kung nagulat ako or I think siguro it's just more of mentally lang talaga sa akin," he said. "As Coach Tab said, I just really needed to settle down, which I didn't do."

"But at least, I just charge it to experience and take it, take my mentality to a next game mentality, next season, you know. Just really try to work really hard this offseason," he added.

Season 85 will be Ildefonso's last in the UAAP, and he is determined to make up for the result of Season 84. UP's win in Game 3 had ended the Blue Eagles' three-season reign at the top of the league, and during Saturday's Thanksgiving, much of the talk centered on how they can regain their status as champions.

"It happens," Ildefonso said of the painful defeat in Game 3. "We just have to move forward and soldier on."

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