Amidst rising expectations, Ateneo hangs on to beat UST

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Ateneo 74 – UST 64

The Ateneo Blue Eagles beat the UST Tigers, 74-64 to notch their fifth straight victory in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tournament and boost their chances of securing an all-important twice-to-beat incentive heading into the Final Four wars.

But after the game ended, it certainly did not look like the Blue Eagles were a team that had been on a tear.

“A little disappointed, really,” Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin said. “Obviously happy to win the game and keep our second round looking good on paper, but it was not really an efficient game for us.”

The Tigers, whose season was already settled save for the final win-loss record, played without pressure and were able to push the Katipunan side in the first half using their defense. UST even led by seven, 27-20 in the second quarter.

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“You have to give credit to UST. It was their last game of the season, their last game as the hosts, [and] they wanted to put up a fight. We are happy to get the win, but we need to play better basketball [than what] we played today,” added Baldwin.

It was not long ago when Ateneo lost to UP and fell to .500 in the elimination round standings. But after a slew of decisive victories, including back-to-back triumphs against league leaders La Salle and FEU, expectations rose for the team as they began looking like a legitimate title contender.

Ateneo entered the match against UST carrying a four-game winning streak, but their performance in the first three quarters wasn’t what everyone expected from them.

“Expectations have began to escalate with our team…that’s life. It’s up to us to live up to those expectations, but more importantly, it’s up to us to live up to our own expectations, and today we are short in terms of our overall performance,” Baldwin said.

“We showed today that if we dropped our guard, we can put ourselves under pressure, which we don’t need to be under. For our players, it has been a learning season and it will continue to be that.”

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Fortunately for the Blue Eagles, a better showing in the fourth quarter highlighted by three outside connections sealed the victory and pushed them to 9-4 in the team standings, good for second place after FEU lost to La Salle in the next game that day.

Isaac Go had 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting to lead the squad. Mike Nieto had 13 points, six rebounds, and two assists, while Vince Tolentino came close to finishing with a double-double as he tallied 11 markers and nine boards.

Louie Vigil’s 14 points led the Tigers, which closed the elimination round with a 3-11 card. Vigil, who played his final game, was the only double-digit scorer for the Espana crew.

Ateneo had a 20-9 lead in assists and also controlled the rebounding battle, 50-33.

Still, Baldwin reminded his guys to continue pushing the team’s ceiling as they are now entering the crucial stages of the tournament.

“We have to keep our eyes focused on continuing to develop this team,” Baldwin said.

At the very least for the Blue Eagles, the win didn’t let the door to a twice-to-beat edge shut before their very eyes. It’s a matter now of keeping that door — and the entire Season 79 campaign — open.

“We have to continue to learn. That’s the nature of this team, that’s the nature of these players. In some ways, we are blessed that there is so much front of us but right now there is a lot of pressure to live up to what we’ve achieved so far.”






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