Had I not witnessed how UP sneaked past Ateneo 84-83 in the last playing day of the UAAP prelims, my headline would have been something else.
Wow, that was one heck of a collegiate battle. UP thus avenged its first round defeat, 81-90.
And to think that whether win or lose, the cast for the Final Four would still be the same; No, 2 seed UP vs DLSC and top seed Ateneo against FEU.
Pride and prestige were actually the things that were at stake, nothing else.
The Blue Eagles were protecting an unblemished winning record dating back to 2018 before the onset of the pandemic lockdowns, hoping to stretch the streak to 40.
But the Maroons spoiled the party, snapping it at 39-1.
The loss – as seen from the long-drawn faces and forlorn teary eyes of both the players and supporters – proved that Ateneo was not invincible but was beatable even.
Did coach Tab Baldwin miss anything or miscalculated in his match ups and substitutions?
As the heavy favorite, Baldwin, a veteran internationalist, was expected to stamp his coaching superiority over a younger bench mentor.
His import, former Gilas center Ange Kouame, a strong candidate for the league MVP, failed to contain his UP counterpart, Malik Diouf who surprisingly poured in 18 arkers and collared 16 rebounds.
The Loyolans trailed most of the way which raised the eyebrows of basketball fans, knowing how Ateneo has been toying with the opposition.
Freshman Carl Tamayo, James Spencer and transferee veteran Ricci Rivero and James Spencer had 16, 12 and 8 pts., respectively.
Ateneo played its usual running game and its offense was versatile, involving all five players in the court.
For a while I thought the Eagles would survive the scare when they took the upperhand, 81-77 with just a little over 4 minutes remaining.
But a three-pointer from Spencer plus Rivero’s calm court generalship, including his last two gift shots from the line, gave UP the coveted victory.
I pray these two UAAP titans – who enjoy twice to beat privilege in the Final Four – meet again for the championship.
UP vs Ateneo is good nutrition not only for UAAP basketball – but also for Philippine hoopdom in general – under these pandemic times. (Email your feedback to email@example.com.) GOD BLESS THE PHILIPPINES!