EVEN though it holds a twice-to-beat incentive in the Final Four, Ateneo is going into the Final Four series with Far Eastern University with the mindset that they don’t have the advantage against the Tamaraws.
The Blue Eagles finished the elimination round of Season 79 by capturing six straight games en route to a 10-4 win-loss record and a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals.
But with Ateneo facing the defending champion FEU in the Final Four, the Blue Eagles are seeing the series as a difficult hurdle in their quest to return to the championship series of the UAAP.
“They are a champion team. They are the defending champion. We really have to go through them,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, the top lieutenant of head mentor Tab Baldwin.
Ateneo may have the psychological advantage going into the Final Four having swept FEU in their season series by an average margin of 10 points per game, including a 74-59 blowout against the Tamaraws in the second round just last November 9.
The Blue Eagles are also seeking to bounce back from last year’s Final Four disappointment when Mac Belo hit a buzzer-beating basket to get booted out in the Final Four.
But the Blue Eagles coaching staff is already conditioning the minds of their players that it will be a difficult road for them to clinch that sole win that will put them into the finals for the first time since the Ateneo squad of head coach Norman Black won its fifth title in 2012.
“We don’t think we have the advantage. That’s a trap for us. We just have to stay focused on what we need to do. We have to prepare for them. They are a tough team and we have to prepare for them. They won’t give up the championship without a fight,” said Arespacochaga.
Arespacochaga also played down the revenge angle from last year’s Final Four series, as the Blue Eagles have been only focused on each game they are confronted with at a time.
“With the way the team thinks right now, I don’t think that we would be thinking about that. Historically, there have been good matchups between FEU and Ateneo in the Final Four. But we are just focused on the present. We want to focus on our next game and for us, that’s the most important thing right now.
The Blue Eagles beat the Falcons, 73-67, on Wednesday to formally claim the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four. But for Arespacochaga, the challenge is just beginning for the young team.
“Yes, we got the twice-to-beat but we also recognize that FEU is a strong team so we really have to prepare against them,” said Arespacochaga.