YESTERDAY was the start of a long 16-day break for Ateneo, as the defending two-time champions keenly await the survivor of the step-ladder semifinals in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
But instead of savoring the rewards of jumping straight to the league’s biggest stage via 14-0 sweep of the elimination round, the Blue Eagles still went to practice to remain sharp as ever.
That’s what champions are made of. No rest for the weary.
“We’ve enjoyed every step of the way. I believe we have an outstanding basketball team, but we haven’t proven ourselves at the last hurdle yet,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin.
“I look forward to working with these guys for another few weeks to achieve that if we can. We will pay all due respect to our opponents and when I say that, that means we will go out there with everything that we have because that’s what they will deserve,” he added.
While the Eagles are waiting in the wings, the remaining semifinalists will go-all out in training even with the long All Saints’ Day weekend as they vie for the remaining Finals berth.
“We will just prepare our opponent specifically once we know who that is but in the meantime, we will work to build our basketball team. 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 gonna see the same team. That’s one of our advantages of the break and we’re gonna have some fun,” said Baldwin.
“This is the last 2-3 weeks that we’re gonna spend together as a team. We know how to work hard. There are no questions about that. And we know how to enjoy each other’s company,” he added.
No. 3 Far Eastern University and No. 4 University of Santo Tomas, which both ended up at 8-6, will meet in a knockout step-ladder match on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Tamaraws advanced to the Final Four for the seventh straight year, while the Growling Tigers made it to the semis for the first time since 2015.
The survivor then will face second-ranked University of the Philippines in the second step-ladder on Nov. 10 also at the Big Dome. The Fighting Maroons hold the twice-to-beat advantage after finishing second with a 9-5 card.
“FEU had a great run, UP also had a great run, and UST has been fairly consistent all year long,” said Baldwin. “They’re all very strong and deserving teams, they all fought hard particularly in the second half of the season.”