THE hard way is sometimes the better way, and for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets, it was no exception.
On the brink of history as the first team in five years to win the title by winning all games of the season, the Blue Eaglets suffered a 70-67 loss to National University in Game Two.
It was humbling, to say the least, according to Ateneo coach Joe Silva.
“‘Yung Game Two, lumaki ulo namin,” Silva admitted.
As it turned out, the loss was just what the Blue Eaglets needed to pull off a 63-58 win over National University in the rubber match before a near-capacity crowd at the Filoil Flying V Centre.
For Silva, the loss was what the team needed.
“The sweep was in our heads (in Game Two). We didn’t play well. Buti na lang, we lost. At least, na-humbled ‘yung mga bata,” said the youthful coach.
Since the loss to NU in Game Two last Tuesday, the Blue Eaglets were all business as they processed the stunning defeat against the Bullpups.
“Mindset coming into this game, even our practices, our focus in the bus and in the dugout, we knew that we really wanted it talaga,” said Silva.
Silva also called on his top two players Kai Sotto and SJ Belangel to step up for the rubber match.
“Sabi naman ni Kai sa akin, we talked and SJ, we talked and both of them said ‘Coach, whatever happens, we want to win this game.’ We want to win Game Three. They delivered,” said Silva.
Game Three was not easy. The Blue Eaglets trailed by six points, 54-48, with four minutes in the game, but Sotto and veterans Belangel and Joaqui Manuel made critical baskets to turn the tide.
Sotto finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks, while Belangel played his final game as a high school player and contributed 16 points and eight rebounds.
“I just told my boys, composure. ‘Yun ‘yung lamang ng NU sa amin because they know how to play in the finals. I just told the boys to stay composed and we fight back,” said Silva.
After the win, Silva said the team had no regrets losing the chance of sweeping the season, and doing it the hard way.
“Actually, we never thought of a sweep. All we want to do was win the championship, whether or not we swept, whether or not we had to do it the hard way. All our main focus and direction was win the championship,” said Silva.