MANILA, Philippines—The Ateneo Blue Eagles did on Wednesday what no other team had ever done, as they completed a perfect 16-0 campaign in the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament.
It was an unprecedented feat, and the Blue Eagles got it done in thrilling fashion. They had to fend off repeated rallies by University of Santo Tomas in Game 2 of the finals before claiming an 86-79 triumph.
In the process, Ateneo annexed its third straight men's basketball crown, while extending its winning streak to an amazing 26 games; its last loss was all the way back in October 2018.
"The 16-0 season is really something that we dreamed about," said Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin. "We didn't talk a lot about it because we never wanted to set that as a goal."
"But I know that the players particularly dream about it and it is a dream season to go through unblemished, to be able to say to each one of those 16 days, no team was better than us," he added.
The Blue Eagles were emotional at Mall of Asia Arena after the game, with Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto sharing a long embrace after the final buzzer. The two have spent much of their lives as teammates, from high school all the way to college.
Afterward, Ravena said the brotherhood made the achievement all the more special. Indeed, it was the Blue Egles' bond that made the 16-0 sweep possible in the first place.
"Masarap," said Ravena. "Masarap hindi dahil nanalo kami, masarap kasi we won it in a way na we were playing for one another. It’s an incredible feeling, di ko ma-describe."
Ravena, who won a record-setting third straight finals MVP trophy, stressed that the team's run to the title was a credit to the whole team — not just him, or even the Ateneo seniors who were feted by the Ateneo community after the win.
"Tinatanong nila kung pa'no namin nagawa 'yung 16-0, 'yung sagot ko is that strength doesn’t lie with one person, with one player, or one coach, but it lies on all of us," said Ravena. "It's because we want to play for another and we preach servanthood."
"Kaya kami malakas, kaya gumanagana 'yung system is that we do what we do not for ourselves but for our teammates and the guy beside us on the bench," he added.
This is the culture that the Blue Eagles have fostered in the past four years, ever since Baldwin took over as head coach in 2016. This is the reason that he is confident about the team that he and the Nieto twins are leaving behind in Ateneo.
"For me, ang importante, it's not the players. It's the culture, it's about how we play, and we play for one another," said Ravena. "As long as it's there, it doesn't matter."
"We've been preaching the next man up for the last four years, and I know whoever steps in our spot, alam namin gagawin nila 'yung pinaka makakaya nila para sa mga teammates nila."
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