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Ateneo 5 makes strong statement

By Jerome Lagunzad

Games Tomorrow
(Mall of Asia Arena)
2 p.m. – NU vs UST
4 p.m. – Adamson vs La Salle

For all the talk about defending champion La Salle’s immense depth and firepower in the absence of reigning league MVP Ben Mbala, powerhouse Ateneo has also made a strong case with its fluid offensive flow and a disciplined defensive principle.

And if both teams will sustain their razor-sharp forms feared by many in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament, then there’s a strong possibility of a “Blue versus Green” titular showdown for the second straight year.

Denied by the Green Archers in the finals last season, the Blue Eagles have been playing on a different level so far, thumping their first three foes in eight days in dominant fashion that underscored their readiness to reach a familiar destination.

“They are playing like a European team,” marveled National University coach Jamike Jarin.

And the numbers back up his immediate observation. The Blue Eagles are averaging 90.3 points – second-highest behind the Green Archers’ astonishing 105.0 points – built around on an efficient 43.5 percent shooting clip and 14.6 assists per game.

They have also doing the damage from beyond the arc, coming up with 9.3 triples per match, with big men Isaac Go, Kris Porter and Raffy Verano coming up with at least one each.

Defensively, Ateneo has also proven to be a tough nut to crack, holding its rivals to just 72.67 points and forcing at least 16 turnovers per outing.

“They are very disciplined. A lot of ball movements and weakside movements. Bigs play inside and shoot outside,” added Jarin, who previously served as Norman Black’s top deputy during Ateneo’s five-peat run from 2008 to 2012.

Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, however, feels the Blue Eagles are only scratching the surface of their full potential, giving their future rivals, including the Green Archers, more reasons to be wary.

“It’s still a learning process,” admitted the former Gilas Pilipinas mentor. “It’s always a learning process and it doesn’t stop. It won’t stop despite whatever the record is so we have to focus on the goal to always improve.”

Asked if the Blue Eagles’ best has yet to come, Baldwin could only hope so.

“You can’t predict anything and I have no expectations from this team. We just try whatever the job is whenever we are working. If it’s a practice, we’ll try to have a good practice. If it’s a game, we’ll play a good game,” he said.

“That’s our formula, that’s our belief system and we’re not going to change that. Nothing is perfect but we do believe in what we are trying to do.”