MANILA, Philippines -- Tab Baldwin expects nothing less than a "real fight" when Ateneo de Manila University opens its quest for redemption against Far Eastern University (FEU) on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
After being dethroned in UAAP Season 84, Ateneo is raring to return to the top spot in Season 85 but will face an early test in the Tamaraws. It will be a rematch of their Final 4 match-up last season, which the Blue Eagles won comfortably.
But Baldwin pointed out that FEU has always given them fits, and he believes that the Tamaraws will again be a handful when they meet on Sunday.
"In my time at Ateneo, we have a really rich history of some great games with FEU. We've scraped by so many times just by the hair on my head. I don't know how we won some of those games," said Baldwin.
"So we expect an extremely tough game. We've been looking at them a little bit, and we know they shoot the ball very well," he added. "We expect a real fight on our hands on Sunday, and I think we'd be foolish if we expect anything else."
Ateneo did not compete in any of the local preseason tournaments, instead opting to play in the World University Basketball Series in Japan as well as in Israel. Fortunately for FEU head coach Olsen Racela, he was able to watch the Blue Eagles' games and scout them.
"Ang Ateneo naman has always been a challenge to play every season, and I feel I become better as a coach every time I play Ateneo, and my players also become better as a team every time we play Ateneo," said Racela.
"So it's really a challenge to play them every year."
Both Ateneo and FEU lost key players to the Korean Basketball League in the offseason, in SJ Belangel and RJ Abarrientos, respectively.
The Blue Eagles also face questions regarding the readiness of reigning Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame, who was shut down due to a knee injury after UAAP Season 84. For FEU, they welcome back Cholo Anonuevo who played just one game in Season 84 before sustaining a foot injury that kept him out for several months.
Game time is at 4 p.m. at the MOA Arena.
At 2 p.m., National University (NU) will face off against the University of the East (UE) in a bid to kick start its Final 4 charge.
The Bulldogs missed last season's semifinals but will enter Season 85 with plenty of confidence after a strong preseason that included winning the Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup. UE, for its part, will try to recover from a winless campaign in Season 84.
At 8 a.m., the NU Lady Bulldogs look to preserve their stunning 96-game winning streak when they take on the UE Lady Warriors. This will be followed by the match-up between the FEU Lady Tamaraws and the Ateneo Lady Eagles at 10 a.m.