MANILA, Philippines -- The Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles are not putting too much stock on their seeding in the Final 4, even as they enter the semis of UAAP Season 85 as the No. 1 team.
Ateneo secured the No. 1 seed on the last day of the elimination round, thanks to a 66-61 triumph over Adamson University. They finished with an 11-3 win-loss record -- the same as defending champion University of the Philippines, but the Blue Eagles edged the Fighting Maroons by virtue of a bigger winning margin in their second round game.
This is the fifth season in a row that Ateneo will enter the Final 4 as the No. 1 seed, a run that started in 2017 when they won the first of three straight championships. But assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga warned that this will not matter when they return to action in the semifinals.
"It's the Final 4 already, and we can't get too caught up in the, you know, we're No. 1," said Arespacochaga. "We all know that entering the Final 4, it's a whole new ball game."
"We're gonna make sure that we don't relax or let our guard down," he added.
Ateneo had to wait for three more days to learn who they will play in the Final 4, before Adamson knocked out De La Salle University in a playoff on Sunday evening at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Blue Eagles will need to beat Adamson just once in order to advance to the finals for the sixth consecutive year. This will be their first meeting with Adamson in the Final 4 since 2010, when the second-seeded Blue Eagles routed the Falcons, 68-55, en route to the Season 73 championship.
Ateneo won both their encounters in Season 85, including a 76-55 rout in the first round. But the Blue Eagles figured in a series of close games to end their elimination round campaign; they had to hold off the Falcons in their game last November 30 after squandering a double-digit lead.
"[It's] certainly not by design from the coaches," Arespacochaga said of their nervy games, which included a come-from-behind win over Far Eastern University and an overtime victory over the University of the East.
"But we're hoping that certainly it would help us out. Considering that we've got a lot of young guys, we lost a lot of veterans," he added. "That endgame experience was something that was a big question mark for guys like Kai [Ballungay], the new guys."
"So, certainly that has helped us, and we're hoping that we continue to learn, especially the young guys, heading to these last few games."
The Blue Eagles will also be the more well-rested team, but Arespacochaga acknowledged that Adamson will have momentum on their side come Wednesday's Final 4. The Soaring Falcons are brimming with confidence after erasing a double-digit deficit against La Salle and snatching an 80-76 victory, with Jerom Lastimosa emerging as the game's biggest hero.
"Hopefully, it would be more to our advantage rather than to them na nagkaroon sila ng isang crucial knockout game," Arespacochaga said.
UAAP Season 85 is streaming on iWantTFC every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.