Ateneo de Manila University was impressive in its first game of the World University Basketball Series (WUBS), recording a 125-39 victory against Universitas Pelita Harapan (UPH) of Indonesia on Tuesday at the Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan.
The game marked the debuts of some of Ateneo's high-profile recruits, including point guard Paul Garcia who had 17 points and forward Kai Ballungay who had 15 points, four rebounds, and three steals. Geo Chiu had a double-double of 10 points and 17 rebounds, while Forthsky Padrigao started at the point guard spot and finished with 14 points, six assists, and four steals.
It was the first official game for the Blue Eagles since losing Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 finals to the University of the Philippines last May.
Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin was quite pleased with his team's effort, saying: "I thought pretty much everybody had pretty good games."
Yet the coach also held off on giving praise, instead opting to focus on the areas for improvement for the Blue Eagles. Ateneo did not play in any of the local preseason tournaments, and the WUBS gives Baldwin an opportunity to evaluate his team before they compete in the UAAP Season 85 tournament.
"We hope to identify weaknesses more than anything else. We want to see what we're not doing well," Baldwin said of their goals for the tournament, in an interview with local media after the game.
"We understand that very soon, we're gonna be playing UAAP games, and those are a different prospect than this tournament," he added. "So, this is just part of the process of evaluation of our team. And it is very important that we understand what our weaknesses are."
Ateneo will just have three games in the WUBS. After playing UPH on Tuesday, they will be back in action on Wednesday evening against the National Chengchi University of Chinese Taipei, before playing Japan's Tokai University on Thursday.
Though the focus is evaluation and development, Baldwin still made it clear that the Blue Eagles are devoted to winning the WUBS.
"It's also important we win games. We didn't come over here to enjoy Japan. It's a beautiful country and we love it, but we came over here to get some hardware and make our university and our fans proud," the coach said.
"We have to believe that every opponent comes to play their best against us. And we have to be prepared to be at our best. The only real reason to play these games is to win these games," Baldwin also said.
"We're not always ready to play. We're not always in peak form or peak condition, but you go out there to represent Ateneo, represent our fans, represent ourselves, and we wanna do that by being successful."