ATENEO De Manila Head Coach Tab Baldwin needs to work on the Blue Eagles’ maturity overnight or face a Final Four meltdown.
The former Gilas Pilipinas coach admitted that Far Eastern University (FEU) simply dominated Ateneo in the last 10 minutes of their semifinals clash last Saturday to surrender a 62-61 decision to the Tamaraws and lose their twice-to-beat advantage.
Now, Baldwin is hoping that his young Blue Eagles have learned a lesson in that fourth-quarter collapse and use that to deny the defending champions a return trip to the finals and meet De La Salle in the best-of-three championship.
“They played very good FEU basketball. Very aggressive on the offensive boards and attacking the rim,” said Baldwin, whose wards lost a 10-point lead (59-49) early in the fourth period.
“They shot 17 free throws in the fourth quarter and had seven offensive rebounds. That’s FEU basketball. (Monbert) Arong, (Reymar) Jose and (Prince) Orizu dominated that stretch of play and that’s nothing new to anybody that knows anything about them,” Baldwin added.
Jose exemplified the Tamaraws’ desire to force a winner-take-all match as the graduating FEU forward dished out a 20-20 performance (20 points, 20 rebounds) and even outrebounded the Ateneo team, 11-8, in the final quarter.
Arong finally ended a series of mediocre performances for Head Coach Nash Racela and came alive in that pivotal final canto, unloading seven of his 13 points in the final period.
Baldwin, who is on his rookie season for the Loyoba-based squad, admitted that FEU’s experience showed in that game while his Blue Eagles failed to deliver at crunch time.
“We didn’t play with the sort of composure and experience that we think we have them developed over the course of the season,” said Baldwin after the Tamaraws snapped their seven-game winning streak.
“It got away from us in the fourth quarter and we paid the price. We have to make sure it won’t happen again,” the American-New Zealander added.
Aaron Black and Thirdy Ravena were the only Ateneo players in double figures in scoring in that loss, hitting 11 and 10 points, respectively. Black hardly played in the final period after leading the Blue Eagles to a 22-12 surge in the third quarter.
Center Chiebueze Ikeh was a non-factor especially on the defensive end. The 6-foot-10 Cameroonian played just 17 minutes, contributed five points and hauled down only three rebounds.
Starting guard Adrian Wong was also a disappointment for Ateneo and hit just two points. He missed all of his eight attempts in 23 minutes.
Overall, Baldwin felt that their poor shooting prevented them from finishing the job against the No. 3 seeds. And their 36 attempts from behind the rainbow line were too much for a crucial game.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well and every zone in the world is tough when you don’t shoot the ball well,” Baldwin lamented. “We ended up taking 36 threes in the game, and that’s way too many. And that’s exactly what they wanted to force us to do.”
FEU Head Coach Nash Racela expects Ateneo to make the necessary adjustments in their winner-take-all match on Wednesday set at 4 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.