THOUGH most collegiate basketball observers saw Ateneo going on a cakewalk on its way to another title this UAAP Season 81, Mike Nieto said that the team saw it otherwise.
Case in point: Ateneo losing to FEU, 63-60 on Wednesday.
That defeat, the Blue Eagles' second for the season, is further proof that their road to back-to-back championships is going to be tougher as expected.
"Di pa namin na-experience yung back-to-back. Isang championship lang din ako sa juniors and I haven't experienced winning back-to-back. Sabi nila it's really harder defending a crown that winning one. Yun yung nilagay namin sa isip namin," he said.
Mike tried to make up for the absence of his twin Matt, who fell to a finger injury in the first half, as he pumped eight points, seven rebounds, and three assists in the losing cause.
But Nieto doesn't want to attribute the loss solely to his brother's injury, acknowledging that at the end of the day, FEU outclassed Ateneo.
"Mahirap na wala si Matt pero ganoon talaga. We offer no excuse for this loss and you just have to give credit to FEU for giving their best. Our effort was there, like coach Tab said in the locker room, but we still fell short to FEU," he said as he gave credit where credit is due.
"FEU is a strong team. Even though they lost to UST and UE, they're still one of the teams to beat this season and we offer no excuse for this loss. Ikagagaling lang din namin ito as a team and we just have to enjoy these opportunities. Di naman palagi na pwede ikaw ang panalo eh."
With Ateneo finishing the first round with a 5-2 card, Nieto wants the perception of its side as an unbeatable squad quashed.
"Even though people are saying were the team-to-beat, I want to say nope. Exactly nope. We lost to Adamson and FEU and they're the top two teams right now in the standings," he said.
"Ever since the loss to Adamson, sinabi na nila na we're vulnerable to losing. We're just a regular team even though we represented the country sa Jones Cup very well. We're still a team that can lose a game. Yun nga yung evidence na natalo kami ng dalawang beses, but we just have to enjoy these moments kasi pati naman Golden State Warriors natatalo. Hindi naman lahat perfect."
Rather, he sees this humbling experience as an opportunity for the Blue Eagles to go back to basics and plot its next plan of attack for the second round, starting against UP on Sunday.
"Natalo kami, we accept it, and we just have to move on. We'll try our best to make the most out of it, the most out of this loss against FEU, and try to become stronger than this heading to the game against UP," he said.