IT’S all even between reigning champion University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo in the Finals series for the Season 85 University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball crown.
And the numbers show neither the Fighting Maroons nor the Blue Eagles have a clear edge to win the crown in Game 3 scheduled at 6 p.m. on Monday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
An Ateneo side composed of Thirdy Ravena, Nieto twins Matt and Mike and Isaac Go beat its neighbor from across Katipunan in the 2018 Finals. That was the Blue Eagles’ second title in their “three-peat” run.
Earlier this year, it was the Fighting Maroons’ turn to win the crown at the expense of the Blue Eagles, putting them 1-1 in the Finals in the league. That championship was UP’s first in 26 years that was made possible by a JD Cagulangan triple.
This season, they’re not only 1-1 in the Finals, but also in the eliminations—UP beat Ateneo in the first round, 76-71, last October 16 but Ateneo got back with a 75-67 victory in the second round last November 26. Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin said both sides are under tremendous pressure but at the same time stressed “it’s not about getting vengeance for the blue side nor retaining the crown for the Maroons.”
“I don’t think last season has anything to do with this season at all,” said Baldwin, a former head coach of New Zealand’s Tall Blacks and Gilas Pilipinas. “I’ve already said even though UP team looks almost exactly the same as the UP team from last year, it’s a different team—they do different things and I never liked the concept of defending champion.”
Baldwin said: “We don’t think that we are cursed by last season, and we don’t think UP deserves to be champions this season because they were champions last season. They got to earn it, they know that.”
“We have to earn it, we know that. Let it be Season 85, not 84, this stands on its own and I think it’s going to be a wild game on Monday. It should be fun,” he added.
UP coach Goldwin Monteverde, on the other hand, hopes his team rallies around their injured comrade Zavier Lucero, the hero in their Game 1 who’s been ruled out of Game 3 after tearing his ACL and meniscus in the fourth quarter Wednesday.
“Walang bibitaw [never give up],” stressed Monteverde of the team’s mantra. “Whatever comes our way, we’ll face it fighting.”