MANILA, Philippines—There will be no breaks for the Ateneo Blue Eagles, even after they completed a 14-game sweep of the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball elimination round.
The Blue Eagles again stamped their class on University of the Philippines, 86-64, on Wednesday at Mall of Asia Arena to complete a perfect elimination-round campaign. With the sweep, they advanced to the best-of-3 finals outright, while the other semifinalists battle it out in a stepladder to determine their opponent.
It was another impressive display for the two-time defending champions, who broke the game open in a masterful second quarter that saw them outscore UP, 25-11. They led by as many as 24 points, and shot 53.13% from the field.
"We understand that this is a significant accomplishment for a basketball team, to go through a season undefeated," said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, who has now steered Ateneo to a fourth consecutive Finals appearance.
"But as you all know, the job isn't done. This is really the season before the season."
Indeed, Baldwin said the task at hand only got harder for the Blue Eagles, who will return to action on Nov. 16 for Game 1 of the finals.
"I can say that I'm very proud of these men," said Baldwin, "And I know that they will not take that as any sort of sign to relax."
"In fact, we practice tomorrow," he added. "So our job is far from over."
Ateneo won't know who it will play in the finals until Nov. 10, at the earliest, but in the meantime Baldwin said it will be "business as usual" for them.
As early as now, the coach is already thinking of putting in "new stuff" that their opponents will be unable to scout.
"I'm really confident that we can build a better basketball team that we have with this time, so that’s what we’re gonna do," said Baldwin. "I don't think there's a question about managing it."
"We're going to go to practice, and we're gonna improve," he said. "These other teams are gonna slug it out, and there is an argument that those games will keep them sharp and fresh. But we'll be sharp."
Much like their coach, the Blue Eagles were thrilled with their achievement, but were not in a celebratory mood. One of their captains, Mike Nieto, channeled the mantra of the 1996 Chicago Bulls, saying: "This 14-0 sweep that we did, it doesn't mean a thing without a championship ring."
Big man Isaac Go, for his part, turned to a closer source for inspiration. "As coach Tab would always preach, it's always the next game that matters," he said.
"We'll be waiting," said point guard Matt Nieto. "We'll be waiting, and we'll watch every team."
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