THE pressure to repeat as champions only serves as motivation for both Ateneo and National University heading to their respective UAAP championship series.
Coaches Pat Aquino of the Lady Bulldogs and the Blue Eagles’ Sandy Arespacochaga admitted pressure comes with the territory - just another challenge they need to hurdle if they hope to remain the kings and queens of college basketball.
“There’s a lot of pressure lalo na kapag defending champion ka. Lahat kalaban mo e, matalo ka lang lahat masaya because all of the teams want to dethrone you,” said Arespacochaga, the lead deputy of coach Tab Baldwin with defending men’s champion Ateneo.
“But it’s understandable, kasi before that ganun din ang pakiramdam namin. On the other hand, ang advantage that we have is ‘yung experience. We’ve been here before. So we’re just trying to use these experiences to counter those pressure.”
“You just have to be ready,” said Aquino as his unbeaten Lady Bulldogs seek a fifth straight women’s championship. “We just have to practice well, talk to the kids, and sacrifice, sacrifice a lot.”
Together with NU stalwart and national team player Jack Animam, Aquino and Arespacochaga shared their thoughts about the coming UAAP Finals on Tuesday during the weekly Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum at the Tapa King Restaurant at Farmers Plaza in Cubao.
Both teams are currently awaiting their finals rivals which will be determined by a pair of playoffs on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Eagles will face the winner of the do-or-die Final Four encounter between second seed Adamson and No. 3 University of the Philippines, while the Lady Bulldogs, currently on an amazing 78-game winning streak dating back to 2014, battle the winner between Far Eastern University and University of Santo Tomas in the final phase of the stepladder playoffs.
While both Aquino and Arespacochaga are very much interested in how the wheel of fortune will turn for all four teams, preparations have already began for the Blue Eagles and Lady Bulldogs, respectively.
“Details like sa offense with our execution. Si coach Tab medyo detalyado siya sa ganung bagay, yun ang mga pina-polish namin. Not necessarily on new plays, pero on how to run our plays better,” said Arespacochaga in the forum presented by San Miguel Corp., Tapa King, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR).
“For us this is a very good opportunity to look at ourselves while were waiting for our opponents.”
The Lady Bulldogs meanwhile, played some tune-up games against a visiting college team from Taiwan.
“It’s a good thing we have friends from Taiwan coming in. It was good practice games in preparation for the coming championship,” said Aquino.
Animam, one of three NU players who are undefeated so far in their collegiate careers, celebrated her birthday on Tuesday, but that didn’t keep her from joining the team in practice.
“Siyempre, gusto naming mag-champion ulit para yung trinabaho namin the whole year, magbunga naman,” she said.
The top-seeded Blue Eagles downed No. 4 Far Eastern University, 80-61, to advance to the finals for the third straight year, while the Lady Bulldogs completed another 14-game sweep of the eliminations to make it to the championship round outright for the fifth straight season undefeated.
On its way to the finals, NU also broke the standing UAAP record for the most number of consecutive wins of 73 previously owned by the Adamson women’s softball team.
Animan hopes to keep the streak going until the end of the season.
“We’ll just help each other for us to play as a team,” she said.