THE Ateneo Blue Eaglets have won by close margins over their last two games, but Matt Nieto is the least surprised with the way the second round started for the team.
The multi-titled team remained on top of the standings with a perfect 9-0 win-loss card, but the Katipunan-based school won its first two games in the second round with an average of just 3.5 points per game.
Ateneo opened the second round with a 69-67 win over De La Salle-Zobel, followed by a 66-61 victory over Adamson, one of the rising teams in Season 77 of the UAAP juniors competition.
Nieto, however, said he already expects tough opposition from the rest of the field in the second phase of the tournament.
“We expected that the second round will be harder than the first,” the 17-year-old Nieto said. “That’s why our first two games were really close because they know us already, our moves, plays, and everything.”
The Blue Eaglets are five games away from a sweep of the elimination round, which will merit an outright spot in the finals armed with a thrice-to-beat advantage in the series.
But Nieto believes the route to a sweep won’t be easy with reigning champion National University still on the team’s eliminations schedule.
Nieto also said the Blue Eaglets still need consistency in their game following the two close wins.
“The sweep will certainly be not easy kaya mas paghihirapan namin ‘yan since marami pang games bago matapos ang second round,” said Nieto, whose team have not won a juniors basketball crown since 2010.
“For me, wala namang kulang sa amin because the coaching staff have taught us everything already. Maybe consistency is the right word for us. Consistency in playing defense for 40 minutes and consistency in executing the plays for the whole game,” said Matt.
At the end of the first round, Nieto was at fourth place in the MVP race led by his twin brother Mike. Although Matt is happy he and his brother are in the fight for the coveted individual award, he said he’s more focused on winning the championship.
“We are blessed na nasa MVP race kami because it means our hardwork and sacrifices paid off. We really don't mind being in the MVP race because if you think about only that, makakalimutan mo na ‘yung teammates mo and you’ll just think about yourself,” said Nieto.
“Our focus really is to get that UAAP championship which is our ultimate goal.”