ATENEO coach Tab Baldwin said the Blue Eagles need to withstand, if not match, La Salle's physicality if they hope to beat the reigning champions in the UAAP Season 80 Finals starting on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The former Gilas Pilipinas coach said he expects nothing short of an all-out war against the Green Archers, who he expects to be physical, from Ben Mbala down to the last man on Aldin Ayo's bench, in the latest chapter of Philippine basketball's biggest rivalry.
The Green Archers, in fact, are so physical under Ayo that 'they live on the edge of the rules, all the time,' said the Ateneo coach.
“It’s not just Ben Mbala, it’s really the La Salle mentality under Aldin Ayo. I think a lot of it centers around Ben, but it’s the physicality with the way they play. You know they live on the edge of the rules, all the time,” Baldwin told SPIN.PH just before Ateneo's closed-door practice at the Moro Lorenzo Gym.
“I think that’s a great source of frustration for a lot of teams in the league. When we review video, there’s a lot of things that’s simply aren’t consistent from the way that La Salle plays and the way the other teams play and you have to adjust to that, you have to be ready for that,” Baldwin added.
For the 59-year old mentor, the only way to beat this Green Archers squad is to be as 'confrontational, aggressive, and in-your-face' as they are - and hope that the officials call the games consistently.
His Blue Eagles, who won their first 13 games of the season before falling to La Salle at the final hurdle, need to 'throw the first punch' and not take a step backwards against the Green Archers.
“I think we’ve prepared our players mentally that this is a team that you don’t take a step back, we have to get on the front foot. We have to be the aggressor, we have to be more physical and we have to be tougher.
"Then we’ll see how the referees will adjust to that cause if they’re not gonna let us do what La Salle has been allowed to do regularly, then you know I really don’t know where to go from there,” Baldwin said.
“It’s time to throw the first punch, so to speak, and not wait to get hit and see what the referees are gonna do for you cause they’re not going to do anything… La Salle really does a great job of playing physical basketball and they really push the boundaries of the rule and we accept the fact that it’s the way the game’s gonna be played so we’re prepared to live on that boundary as well.”
Baldwin insisted he made these statements not to sway the referees or their calls, saying what he’s focused on is how he can rally his players and convince them that they can win playing La Salle’s game.
“This isn’t a cry for help, this is a call to arms for our players,” Baldwin continued. “We have to understand that it’s this way and there will not be a backward step and I expect from the tip-off that we will be as confrontational, as aggressive, as in-your-face as La Salle always is.”