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Ateneo coach stays positive despite failed sweep attempt

Denied of an outright finals berth by defending champion La Salle, Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin is not one to fret about a missed opportunity for so long.

After all, he and the Blue Eagles are still on the right track to complete their ultimate mission.

Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin  (MB photo | Rio Leonelle Deluvio)

Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin (MB photo | Rio Leonelle Deluvio)

“We need to put that in perspective. It would have been nice to have, but that’s it—it would have been nice,” said the Kiwi-American mentor, barely expressing any regret on a failed bid after the Blue Eagles suffered a 79-76 loss to the Green Archers 79-76 at the packed Smart-Araneta Coliseum last Sunday night.

The loss, its first and last in the elimination round, prevented Ateneo from clinching an automatic finals berth and instead set it up for a titanic collision with No. 4 Far Eastern University Tamaraws on Sunday, with the Blue Eagles enjoying a twice-to-beat edge as the No. 1 seed.

Meanwhile, the Green Archers, who finished the eliminations at second overall, will be armed with a once-to-win advantage against the third-ranked Adamson Soaring Falcons on Saturday also at the Big Dome.

While his charges are still licking the wounds inflicted by their resurgent archrivals, Baldwin, 59, could not help but urge the Blue Eagles to keep their focus on the bigger picture – and not on a blown chance.

“We still have to win the title. So now, we just have a different route to try and do what we really want to do,” he said.
“Things like sweeps and undefeated seasons are things you dream about but you got to leave them behind pretty quick. Even if we win tonight, we got to leave it behind because the golden apple that we’re after is still in front of us. What really matters is the next game, right?”

However, the Blue Eagles could have given themselves at least 10 days of rest had they were able to protect a seven-point cushion and show enough poise down the stretch in the face of the Green Archers’ determined rally.

Down by one with and coming off a timeout with 12.6 seconds left, Ateneo had a chance to go on top – and possibly steal the victory – after big man Isaac Go found himself wide-open momentarily in the lane but somehow hesitated before taking a semi-hook shot over the outstretched arms of La Salle center Ben Mbala that rimmed out.

The 6-foot-8 Go then fouled Ricci Rivero who corralled the rebound, enabling the Green Archers guard to ice the game with a pair of freebies going to the last 8.9 seconds before sealing it with a huge block on Blue Eagles guard Anton Asistio’s last-gasp trey.

Baldwin, however, still sounded pleased with how Go and the Blue Eagles executed their near game-winning play. “He (Go) actually wasn’t the first option in that play but he was exactly where he was supposed to be,” he said. (Jerome Lagunzad)