By Jerome Lagunzad
2 p.m. – Ateneo vs UST
4 p.m. – La Salle vs NU
Talks of a possible elimination round sweep is starting to reverberate around Katipunan, with powerhouse Ateneo standing three victories away from completing such an impressive feat in the UAAP basketball tourney.
With an unblemished 11-0 mark, the Blue Eagles appear right on track in matching the previous best-league start made by University of the East in 2007 which could also earn them an outright berth in a best-of-three finals.
Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, however, was quick to shoot down any loftier expectations much like how the Blue Eagles have been doing over their league rivals so far.
“I don’t care if we’re one win away from a sweep or 500 wins away from a sweep. The only game that matters is UST,” said the American-Kiwi coach, referring to the Blue Eagles’ upcoming showdown with the winless Growling Tigers on Saturday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
“And before that, the only thing that matters is practice on Monday. We don’t look passed that,” he added, refusing to give his wards any chance to shift their focus away from the immediate task at hand.
The Blue Eagles’ collective focus was in full display anew over the weekend when they shackled the Red Warriors no end en route to a dominant 97-73 victory.
“I think we did a good job taking care of business,” said second-string guard Jolo Mendoza, who tallied 13 points off the bench, making all of his four attempts from the field.
“We came in the game wanting to win and we’re focused on this game. We didn’t focus on anything else. We just focused on this game alone. We didn’t want to think too far ahead. And I think we did well in taking care of our business today.”
Especially on the defensive end as the Blue Eagles made life miserable for Alvin Pasaol, the Red Warriors’ top offensive option who could only score eight points – the first time he was held to a single digit in scoring this season – on a horrendous 2-of-11 shooting from the field.
“We did a good job defensively,” said Baldwin, applauding the defensive efforts made by a string of Ateneo defenders, led by ace wingman Thirdy Ravena. “Thirdy really accepted the challenge. Other guys, like Juwuan (White), Mike (Nieto), Vince (Tolentino), and Raffy (Verano), they really went after him.
“We really felt that we only had to worry about him on one end of the floor and when that’s the case, the objective is to limit him on one end and exploit him at the other end. I thought generally we did a pretty good job of that.”
After taking on UST, Ateneo squares off with Final Four hopeful University of the Philippines on Nov. 8 before priming itself up for a keenly-awaited rematch with defending champion and archrival La Salle on Nov. 12.