ATENEO head coach Tab Baldwin believes they are a better team compared to the squad that got swept by La Salle in the finals last year as the bitter rivals again collide for the UAAP Season 80 crown.
Getting experience of playing in the big stage last year was crucial for the Blue Eagles, and their impressive elimination round run this season gave them enough confidence to believe that they can hurdle any team this season, including the reigning champions.
"We’re a better team now. As simple as that. We’ve proven a better team all year long," said Baldwin.
The veteran international mentor draws more confidence from the fact that the Blue Eagles nearly swept the Green Archers in the elimination if not for a few endgame lapses, which is a stark contrast to their struggles against La Salle last year.
"I think apart from one big offensive lapse one period against La Salle, we’ve proven as good as they are — we had a terrible offensive lapse in the fourth quarter of the second game and it cost us the game," said Baldwin.
"I don’t expect that my team will do that again. But we have to get ourselves into a winning position first."
Baldwin was also quick to laud Far Eastern University after Ateneo’s 88-84 overtime thriller to clinch the finals spot, but he also pointed out that his wards need to stay grounded after such a thrilling win and focus on Game 1 against La Salle on Saturday.
"That was an exciting game — heck of a game for the fans, heck of a game for the players. FEU are just bulldogs. You just can’t shake those guys [off]. They’re so tough. But we got there in the end, so kudos to the guys. Their character was showing through late in the game and I’m proud of them," said Baldwin.
"(But) I think the coaching staff has to set the tone and we gotta come down from the cloud pretty quick. Get our focus on the next game because we didn’t play this season just to win in the semis. We played this season to go as far as this team is capable of going."