Season 82 of the UAAP was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that shouldn’t take away how historic this season was. In Basketball, we were witness to three sweeps. All of them were dominant, but each were also unique in their own special way.
Let’s Rewind back to their stories.
By Gio Gloria
“Dominant”, “Daunting”, and “Boring” were just some of the words used to describe the Ateneo Blue Eagles during their perfect run in UAAP Season 82. Regardless of whether you were for or against them, the proof was in the pudding.
Sure, Ateneo went 16-0, but beyond the box score and the quick highlights, the team seemed to have little to no trouble weathering any storm they encountered, with the next-man-up mentality, earlier seen from the likes of the New England Patriots and the San Antonio Spurs, evident throughout the season.
No Blue Eagle averaged more than 12.93 points per game, with only Thirdy Ravena and Ange Kouame registering double-digit scoring averages prior to the Final Four. They also averaged a UAAP-best 16.93 assists per game, even finishing with a season-high 26 during an 88-51 demolition of the NU Bulldogs in the second round.
Defensively, ADMU put the clamps on the rest of the UAAP, limiting their opponents to a league-best 59.5 points per game in the preliminary round. They led the league in blocks by a significant margin, even finishing the regular season with more blocks than NU and the UST Growling Tigers combined. Opposing teams couldn’t run against Ateneo, couldn’t grab offensive boards for second-chance opportunities, and had their starters work for every point against the toughest defense in the league.
Ravena capped off his college career with 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and a Finals MVP trophy, but his teammates had his back when the going got tough. Kouame, who averaged 12.50 points, 11.79 rebounds, and a league-leading 3.86 blocks (which was on par with what the UP Fighting Maroons averaged) through 14 games was the steady presence down low, while SJ Belangel and William Navarro stepped up during certain games in Season 82. Belangel rose to the occasion in the finals and scored 15 points in the title clincher, while Navarro was praised by many as one of the most efficient players in Season 82. Matt and Mike Nieto, Ateneans since they were kids, were the ultimate teammates who simply did what needed to be done to secure the championship.
“Boring” was how critics normally described the Blue Eagles because they brushed off the competition with relative ease. Perhaps it’s because their plodding pace was far from the bang bang buckets pace that has taken over the NBA and some other college teams in the Philippines. Maybe it’s because even before the teams stepped onto the court, people already knew the result. Yet no matter how much flak they drew because of how they play or what they do, Ateneo always stuck with their game plan, pounced on their opponents’ errors, and walked away with wins.
While the players deserve much of the credit for their execution on the court, Tab Baldwin’s fingerprints were all over that 16-0 campaign. Games against the UST Growling Tigers, DLSU Green Archers, and FEU Tamaraws provided some of the most notable scares in Season 82, but there was no palpable fear in the face of the players nor with Baldwin. The former Gilas head coach had an answer for every press, scoring run, and thrown at the Blue Eagles, and this quiet confidence spilled over to his players, all of whom followed the plan to the tee and in turn won their third UAAP title in as many years.
The UAAP Season 82 basketball tournament was spared from the cancellations brought about by COVID-19, and lost in the chaos from the pandemic is the fact that ADMU hasn’t lost a game since June 18, 2019, which was when they suffered a 77-74 loss to the CEU Scorpions in Game 2 of the 2019 PBA D-League Finals. It’s been a while since all of us have seen live basketball, but for Ateneo, a calendar year has almost gone by since they last took an L.
The late great Kobe Bryant once said that determination wins games, but detail wins championships. There were some games where the Blue Eagles’ perfect season seemed to hang in the balance but with the way Ateneo pinpointed their vulnerabilities and flipped the switch when need be, it wasn’t surprising that they came out unscathed and won their 8th UAAP Men’s Basketball championship in the last 12 years.