MANILA, Philippines -- A pep talk from his head coach was exactly what Dave Ildefonso needed to break out of a funk and help Ateneo de Manila University pull away from the University of the Philippines in their crucial UAAP Season 85 game on Saturday.
The Blue Eagles trailed against the Fighting Maroons at the half, 37-35, with Ildefonso held scoreless after missing all seven of his attempts. But the momentum shifted in Ateneo's favor in the third quarter, thanks in large part to Ildefonso's efforts.
The forward scored 12 points in the third quarter, matching the output of the entire UP team. He made both of his three-pointers and converted six of his nine free throws, ultimately helping the Blue Eagles take a 53-49 lead heading into the final period.
"I think what really helped me out was when Coach Tab really pulled me aside and just talked to me, and just gave me some Tab Baldwin wisdom, which I always am welcome to receive," Ildefonso said, after the Blue Eagles held on for a 75-67 triumph against the defending champions.
Ildefonso finished with 15 points, with his third three-pointer of the game giving Ateneo a 60-49 lead in the final quarter before Gab Gomez and Ange Kouame finished the job in the closing stretch.
The second-generation star said his much-improved performance in the second half can be traced to Baldwin's pep talk, as he followed his coach's instruction to "just have fun" despite the tense atmosphere and massive implications of their game against the Fighting Maroons.
"He told me to have fun. It's a big moment, it's a big game, so many people are watching," said Ildefonso. "He told me that he just has so much belief in me, and he told me that he's gonna have my back whatever happens."
"That just helped me out, and the caliber of coach that he is, and just hearing that from a great coach like him, it just ups your confidence by a thousand percent," he added.
Baldwin had nothing but praise for Ildefonso, noting that the forward has been giving all he can for the Blue Eagles under difficult circumstances. Entering Saturday's game against UP, Ildefonso has been averaging 12.58 points and 8.42 rebounds for the Blue Eagles in Season 85.
"Dave is dealing with a lot of pressure from a lot of different angles, I should say. And, I did tell him -- I did tell him that no matter what, he's my guy," said Baldwin. "There's not an incident that can happen that backs me off of this guy."
"I've grown to know him over the last three years, and this is a man of true character. This is a man of real substance, as a human being. He can go out there and play like a dog, he doesn't lose one thing from me. But he won't, he won't," the coach added.
The victory over UP assured Ateneo of a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final 4, and kept them on track for the top seed as well. If they defeat Adamson University in their last elimination round game on Wednesday, they will enter the semis as the No. 1 team.