The defending champion Ateneo Blue Eagles are coming off a 15-day break when they meet the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers today in Game 1 of the 82nd University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball finals.
The long layoff following a 14-game sweep of the eliminations could make the Blue Eagles’ performance rusty when Game 1 of their best of three finals with the Growling Tigers reels off at 4 p.m. today at the Araneta Coliseum.
But the Blue Eagles could still turn out to be a different team after coach Tab Baldwin and his coaching staff met behind closed doors after the elimination round to come up with a battle plan that the Growling Tigers have never seen before on the floor.
“We will put some new stuff in, that teams won’t be able to go back and review our films and say that we’re going to see the same team. That’s one of our advantages of the break and we’re gonna have some fun,” said Baldwin.
The Blue Eagles, who have a thrice-to-beat advantage, rank high as a defensive team after limiting their rivals to 59.5 points per game.
The Growling Tigers are fourth in their defensive efforts, allowing the opposing squads to score an average of 74.94 points.
With their thrice-to-beat bonus, the Blue Eagles will be full of confidence against the Growling Tigers, whom they will face in the finals again after seven years.
“We need to cherish these three weeks. We need to be productive in these three weeks. I’m really confident that we can build a better basketball team that we have with this time so that’s what we’re going to do. I don’t think there’s a question about managing it, we’re gonna go to practice and we’re going to improve,” added Baldwin.
The Growling Tigers come into the fight brimming with confidence and energy after hurdling the Far Eastern University and the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in the stepladders semifinals.
“Of course, we are grateful that we reached this far, but this is not our main goal. Talking about our (fourth) finals appearance, it’s all about passion, passion sa laro. Walang problema ‘yung magtrabaho nang magtrabaho because I love what I’m doing,” said UST coach Aldin Ayo after the Growling Tigers hurdled the Fighting Maroons for the second straight time in the semifinals, 68-65.