MANILA, Philippines -- A well-prepared, well-rested Ateneo de Manila University squad proved too much for Adamson University on Wednesday, with the Blue Eagles claiming a comfortable 81-60 triumph in their Final 4 game.
But Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin still had nothing but praise for the gutsy run that Adamson had in UAAP Season 85, as the Soaring Falcons battled their way back from the brink of elimination to make it to the semis.
Just last Sunday, Adamson ousted De La Salle University in a thrilling knockout game for the last spot in the Final 4, and Baldwin believes that this ultimately spelled the difference between his team and Nash Racela's in their semifinals showdown.
"I'd like to pay tribute to Adamson and Coach Nash. It's a really difficult job to play the game they played against La Salle the other night, with all the emotion and the expenditure of energy, and then to turn around and try and play a team that's been preparing for a week, that's well-rested, and hasn't been thinking about anything other than who they're gonna face in the semis," said Baldwin after their triumph.
Adamson had momentum and confidence after their 80-76 win over La Salle in the playoff, but Ateneo had the benefit of a longer preparation.
It showed in their Final 4 game, as Ateneo pulled away with a blistering 22-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters. They led by as much as 30 points, sank 16 3-pointers, and limited Adamson star Jerom Lastimosa to just 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
"I think that when you get some time to prepare and your opponent doesn't have much time -- and they were playing on fumes, they were playing on heart, they were playing on Nash's brain, and all of those things they have a ton of," said Baldwin.
"But in the cauldron of a semifinal, you need more than that. And you know, you need time to prepare, you need rest, and you need a full team hitting on all cylinders, and tonight we were that team," he added.
"They were just a bunch of fighters out there, and I really admire them for the fight they put up," Baldwin said of Adamson.
Lastimosa's struggles were emblematic of the difference between the two teams. The guard had been sensational against La Salle, scoring 22 points including 11 in a sizzling third quarter stretch to fuel the Soaring Falcons' comeback.
But he was held in check all game long by the Blue Eagles, with Chris Koon and BJ Andrade getting most of the minutes against the shifty guard. Lastimosa would not hit his first field goal until the 7:27 mark of the third quarter to cut the Ateneo lead to eight, 44-36.
Ateneo responded with its backbreaking 22-0 scoring blast to seize complete control of the contest. Lastimosa broke loose in the fourth period, but the Falcons were in too deep of a hole.
"Jerom just couldn't see anything for three and a half quarters of the game. That's a credit to these two guys," said Baldwin in reference to Koon and Andrade. "That was a big part of the game plan."
"He [Lastimosa] is a great player, and neutralizing him forces the rest of their roster to try and to do things that they're not entirely comfortable with. These two guys just did a phenomenal job defending Jerom. You don't win championships if you don't play defense," he added.
Koon and Andrade had embraced the challenge of defending Lastimosa, who averaged 14.83 points per game in the elimination round.
"[I] just know that he's a good player, but listen to what the coaches are saying. It was tough. He'll get his, but I think as a team, our defense, we had so many rotations and so many guys stepped up," said Koon, who also scored 15 points on top of his stout defense.
"I think that was a credit to what we do at practice. I'm just happy we were able to contain him as much as we did today," he added.
The focus for Ateneo now shifts to the University of the Philippines, as their best-of-3 Finals series starts on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
UAAP Season 85 is streaming on iWantTFC every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.