MANILA, Philippines—Defending UAAP champion Ateneo de Manila University played with greater intensity on Wednesday against University of the Philippines, after a shock loss to Adamson in its season-opener over the weekend.
Still bristling from a 74-70 setback against the Soaring Falcons, the Blue Eagles displayed their might in the second half to claim an 87-79 triumph over their Katipunan neighbors and thus grab their first win of Season 81.
Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin acknowledged that his side was given another tough challenge by UP, particularly by sophomore guard Juan Gomez de Liano who scored a career-best 29 points.
But the Blue Eagles got the job done this time around, prompting the coach to say: “I'm happy with the fight that we had inside of us today. I think that was more evident than in the game against Adamson.”
“I thought our intensity today was a better reflection of the team that we want to be,” Baldwin further explained. “Our execution is still lacking.”
“But I'm now more confident that as we face the UAAP intensity more and more, that our execution will become better and settle down,” he added.
The Blue Eagles, who won the Season 80 title through disciplined offense and lockdown defense, shot just 41.27% against UP on Wednesday, with some shots swirling in and out of the basket. Still, it was already a massive improvement from 28.17% clip against Adamson, which saw the Blue Eagles brick several point-blank attempts.
Baldwin said he expects his team to keep improving, even as the rest of the UAAP teams continue to give them their best shots.
“We’re gonna get pressure from everybody,” he pointed out. “I think that’s the next challenge for this team -- no matter what the conditions are and no matter who we play, to turn our practice effort into game performance.”
The veteran coach revealed that, after the game against Adamson, he challenged his team by asking: “Who are we? Is that who we wanna be? Because that's who we prepared to be.”
These are questions that the Blue Eagles will have to keep answering, said Baldwin, as each and every opponent will present them with these same questions.
“That's what our opponent ask of us -- who are you? And when we give an answer like we give last week, then all of you people will label us losers, rightfully so,” said the coach. “When we give an answer like we gave today, we have a very good chance of you people labeling us as winners.”
“It doesn't matter to me what you label us. What matters to me is how these guys actually play. But that takeaway I think is really important -- who are we?”
The Blue Eagles will try to stay true to their identity once again when they take on Far Eastern University on Saturday, still at the Araneta Coliseum.
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