MANILA, Philippines -- The Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles did not miss a beat in their final game of the UAAP Season 81 elimination round against University of Santo Tomas (UST), despite playing without their head coach.
Tab Baldwin missed the game as he is undergoing medical tests, according to assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
"So far, the tests are okay, nothing to worry about. He just couldn't make it in time," Arespacochaga assured afterward.
Even without their head coach, however, the Blue Eagles had little trouble as they demolished the Growling Tigers, 102-62, to finish the elimination round with a 12-2 win-loss record. They are already assured of the No. 1 seed in the semifinals, and are awaiting their Final 4 opponent.
"It's actually quite funny," Arespacochaga told reporters after their win. "For the past few games, we were missing some players, so 'next man up.'"
"Ngayon, para maiba, 'yung head coach naman ang mawala, 'di ba?" he joked. "Para lang maiba."
"Of course, we'd rather have Coach Tab here. But one of the things that we told the players was Coach Tab's system was already in place, they know what they're supposed to do," he added.
"Next man up" has been Ateneo's mantra throughout the elimination round, as they dealt with injuries to Matt and Mike Nieto, and the one-game suspension of Thirdy Ravena. In their stead, players like Tyler Tio, SJ Belangel, and William Navarro have stepped up and shone.
With Baldwin out, it was the Ateneo coaching staff's turn to step up. Specifically, Arespacochaga -- himself a former Ateneo head coach -- got a chance to call the shots again for the Blue Eagles.
"I approached it not really emotionally, because we knew that we had a job to do," said Arespacochaga, who was Ateneo's head coach in 2004 but has since become an assistant coach for Norman Black, Bo Perasol, and now Baldwin.
"It wasn't just me stepping up for Coach Tab, but the whole coaching staff," he stressed. "I still focused on the task at hand, and actually, Coach Tab talked to us about all the things that he wanted to see and wanted to implement in this game."
"So, it wasn't really hard or difficult for me, because like I said, the system is in place already, and our players are disciplined. So it wasn't difficult, even though there are very big shoes to fill."
The players, for their part, were determined to live up to Baldwin's expectations even in his absence.
"As you see, Coach Tab wasn't here, so our focus is to make him proud of us," said Ateneo center Angelo Kouame, who had 22 points and 9 rebounds in just 13 minutes of playing time. "So we tried to play as a team."
With their players fully focused on the game, Arespacochaga and the rest of the coaching staff had little to worry about.
"It's like a well-oiled machine that Coach Tab has already established in our system," Arespacochaga said. "We just had to make sure that we continue what he wants us to do."
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