Wins by streaking Ateneo, Adamson fail to ease coaches’ worries

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Ateneo’s Dave Ildefonso. UAAP PHOTO

When the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball tournament’s hottest teams at the moment, Ateneo and Adamson, still find something to complain about, it makes one wonder what squads stranded in turbulent stretches are thinking about.

Ateneo stretched a remarkable winning streak to 37 games after demolishing National University, 89-75, on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena, even as Adamson continued to rise from a dismal first round to make inroads down in its Final Four bid.

None of their coaches seemed worry-free after the victories.

“I just have to say this schedule is brutal, really really brutal, and I think it’s really unfair you know to everybody because it’s just very difficult for the players and the coaching staff to maintain a high standard of performance, and that’s really what the fans want,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin.

Adamson counterpart Nash Racela, meanwhile, expressed dismay over how the Falcons treated the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Tigers in an 80-69 victory.

“I think that in their minds, they could win just by stepping on that court. And it showed that UST is a tough team. If you don’t play with them with respect, they will beat you,” Racela said.

Talking for all teams

Baldwin said his complaint wasn’t something exclusive to his Blue Eagles.

“[T]alking for all of the teams, everybody is exhausted and you know looking at our basketball team in our season, I marvel really at how our players continue to push themselves under these circumstances,” he said.

If a team that has won all its 11 games so far this season is starting to feel exhausted, imagine the fatigue gnawing at squads knowing that a brutal race for a semifinal berth could drag them into a grueling battle for a title shot.

Ateneo’s victory put the team within three games of sweeping the classification phase and booking an outright Finals spot, making the No. 2 seed quite crucial—a sweep by the Eagles would require a stepladder semifinals for the three remaining teams in the Final Four, with the No. 2 team having the lightest burden.

University of the Philippines (UP) must have taken notice and mustered enough endgame juice to hold off La Salle, 82-79.

The Maroons thus added fresh cushion between them and the Archers, their rival for the No. 2 spot. UP’s season sweep of La Salle was its ninth win in 11 outings, dropping the Taft residents to 7-4.

Deserved scolding

Adamson, meanwhile, stepped out of the halftime break with renewed purpose and upped its record to 5-6, giving it the inside track for the last Final Four spot.

That didn’t spare the Falcons from Racela’s ire.

“We weren’t very consistent in playing especially at the start,” said Racela.

Top Falcon Jerom Lastimosa scored 13 of his 24 points in the first quarter as he appeared to be the only one with the sense of urgency.

The UST stayed with one (41-40) after the first half and even exchanged leads with Adamson behind fiery solid performances by guards Nic Cabañero and Josh Fontanilla.

“I think we deserved to get a scolding from coach Nash,” said Lastimosa. “We need to be consistent, especially with our last three games.”

The Maroons’ coach, on the other hand, was in a better mood.

“There is an improvement now compared to our last game,” said UP coach Goldwin Monteverde. “We had a very good ball movement from the start. All the things we were working on, we saw them today.”

UP faced quite an endgame scare as La Salle mounted a 10-0 blast to inch closer at 71-69 in the final 10 seconds behind Deschon Winston. But after a Ricci Rivero free throw split for UP, La Salle’s Mark Nonoy bungled a three-pointer as time expired.

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