By EUGENE FLORES
SIDELINED in the first round due to appendicitis, Forthsky Padrigao made sure Ateneo got a different outcome when it met FEU-Diliman once again on Sunday.
“Talagang motivated ako kasi malaking bagay yung panalo namin dito dahil tinalo nila kami noong first round,” said the court general, who dropped an impressive line of 19 points, six assists, three rebounds, two steals, and a block in the Blue Eaglets' 77-61 dismantling of the Baby Tamaraws in the UAAP Season 81 juniors' basketball tournament.
Padrigao played perfect music with the towering Kai Sotto in the victory as they finally showed everyone how potent their partnership can be for the defending champions.
“Last year pa namin pinagu-usapan ito eh, since SEABA pa, na ito nga yung pinakahihintay namin na maging teammate kaming dalawa," said the 6-foot Padrigao of his 1-2 punch combo with Sotto. "Siguro ngayon, gagawin na lang namin ang best namin para ma-defend namin yung title."
Sotto finished the game with 27 points, 22 rebounds, and four assists in the conquest.
But it's not just the two of them.
Padrigao also lauded the efforts of Ian Espinosa, who held the fort during his absence in the first round.
"Talagang matapang yung batang yon eh. Since Iloilo pa lang, nakikita ko na yung tapang niya," he said of his fellow point guard.
Espinosa, who got eight points, five rebounds, four assists, and four steals in the win over FEU-Diliman, has established himself as a solid contributor for the Blue Eaglets, one which the team needs as it enters the homestretch of the eliminations.
“Ngayong nakakalaro na ako, malaking tulong siya sa amin. Kapag nasa bench ako, nakikita ko yung mga possible na adjustments, so advantage siya sa akin kasi nasasabi ko siya sa buong team and then, nagagawa naman namin."
As happy as Padrigao is with his team's play, his biggest elation comes from the fact that everything is finally coming together for Ateneo this late, especially with the Eaglets chasing a top two spot that comes with a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
The win helped the Blue Eaglets level with the Baby Tamaraws, forcing a tie for second place with identical 7-2 records.
“Pinaglalabanan namin dito is yung twice-to-beat. Gusto naming makuha yun kaya motivated lang talaga ako para manalo," said Padrigao.