The Ateneo Blue Eagles cemented their place as the best team in UAAP men's basketball after earning their second straight title. The champions flaunted talent, experience and dominance in their 99-81 Game 2 title-clinching victory over the UP Fighting Maroons on Wednesday.
The Blue Eagles came in as the favorites to win it all prior to the start of the season, and they lived up to the hype. They finished the elimination round as the number one seed with a 12-2 record. They dismantled the FEU Tamaraws in the Final Four and swept the finals against UP. With another title under their belt, and a team relatively intact for next year, they are poised to continue their supremacy in the UAAP.
"I think we'll have to see what presents itself next year and we'll try and build the team to win a championship again, but keep our focus on the day-to-day." Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said. "It served us pretty well the last three years and I don't see any reason to change our philosophy. I think that the buy-in from the players is pretty good. And I think that when we all buy in to the same belief, in the same philosophy, it's a lot easier to make it work."
Ateneo's epic run continues
The Ateneo Blue Eagles won a tenth men's basketball title and are now in fourth place with the most UAAP championships.
"This has been a fun team to work with, a tremendous group of guys. I think there is gonna be a little bit of fun in a little while. So yeah I'm just very blessed, very very blessed to work with these guys. Very grateful," he went on.
This incarnation of the Blue Eagles was a relentless juggernaut who refused to let up the entire season. They nearly led in all statistical categories, priding themselves on efficiency and putting value on every possession. They only tasted defeat twice all-season long, a testament to their culture of excellence.
"We have a formula. We stick to our formula. That's it. I didn't tell them anything different. We just tried to correct our mistakes and that goes for when we win games and when we lose games," Baldiwn explained. "So we make mistakes all the time. I'm not even happy with our defense tonight but they're not gonna let me say that anymore. But if we had another game, we would be talking about the mistakes we made tonight."
"It's just a cast of learning curve, that's what the coaching staff has committed to doing. We don't give these guys a break. We're not there to cheer for them, we're not there to congratulate them, we're there to help them be better."
Only sharpshooter Anton Asisitio will graduate for Ateneo. With a team composed of guys like Thirdy Ravena, Angelo Kouame, and Matt Nieto, the Blue Eagles will once again be a top contender for next season. The last time Ateneo enjoyed multiple titles and seemed invincible was during its historic five-peat run from 2008 to 2012. Can this be a beginning of a new dynasty for the blue and white?
"First of all, back-to-back doesn't look so important when you put it next to five in a row. It looks like a little bump on the road compared to that mountain that they did," Baldwin said.
More than chasing titles, Baldwin something more for his team.
"We want to pursue excellence. A championship is one measure of excellence I guess. So if that's a by-product of the way that we do things, we hope that we continue to have championships in the future. Again that's not the goal. That's not what we set out to do," Baldwin said.