MANILA, Philippines – Ateneo de Manila University head coach Tab Baldwin expects De La Salle University to figure prominently in the Final 4 picture of the UAAP Season 82 tournament, after the Green Archers gave the Blue Eagles all they could handle in their second round meeting on Sunday.
The Green Archers showed their grit in coming back from double-digit deficits, and in the end the Blue Eagles had to settle for a 77-69 triumph – their 10th straight win of the season. It was a far cry from their 81-69 victory over La Salle in the first round.
"I thought the first half, we looked more nervous than La Salle did. I thought they looked very composed and sure of themselves and understanding what they wanted to do," Baldwin said after the game.
He commended his team for getting their bearings as the game went on, and praised Adrian Wong for hitting shots that kept Ateneo in the game amidst La Salle's strong start.
"I think we can play better," said Baldwin. "But we gotta give credit to La Salle for forcing us to not play as well as we know that we can, and we know that we should."
"Even though it's a loss, I'd like to congratulate them on their effort and their toughness in that game," he added.
The result snapped a two-game winning streak for La Salle, putting them at 4-5 and in fifth place, half a game behind Far Eastern University and University of Santo Tomas for third and fourth places in the standings.
It's clear to Baldwin, however, that the Green Archers have improved greatly since the first round, when they lost three of their first four games.
"I think we've seen from La Salle these few games, their roster seems to have settled down a bit. I think that the coaching staff has realized the value of Aljun [Melecio] and [Andrei] Caracut," said Baldwin.
"They put the ball back in their hands for the majority of the game, they're playing [Encho] a lot more, Serrano, and he's producing a lot for them and you know, tough numbers," he added.
In the process, the Green Archers are looking more like "the La Salle of old, the La Salle that we were used to."
Baldwin stressed that this was not an indictment of some of La Salle's recruits. The team had brought in "one-and-done" players, of whom only Jamie Malonzo is having a true impact on the team.
"These kids are good players, but I think they got them a little bit late," Baldwin explained. "There's something to be said for chemistry and there's something to be said for adjusting to the UAAP environment."
"And I think that these guys have done that now. And this team has done that and the roster is settled down," he added.
It is thus no surprise to Baldwin that La Salle is on the rise, and he expects them to recover from the defeat and continue to contend for a spot in the Final 4.
"They're going to be, you know, though the rest of the way," Baldwin predicted. "I'm glad they're involved in that dogfight in the middle of the table."
"I just think that the roster is probably a more confident roster, because I think they understand the roles probably a little bit better," he said.
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