Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin calmly answered queries from media after absorbing a heartbreaking 72-69 loss at the hands of rival University of the Philippines in Game 3 of the UAAP men’s basketball Finals Friday night, May 13.

Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin (left) consoles outgoing team captain Gian Mamuyac after suffering a heartbreaking 72-69 loss against University of the Philippines in Game 3 of the UAAP men’s basketball Finals at the Mall of Asia Arena Friday night, May 13. (UAAP Media Bureau)

Graceful in defeat, Baldwin responded to questions thrown left and right during a press conference that lasted almost 16 minutes on the second floor of the Mall of Asia Arena where the isolated “press room” is located.

Midway through the interview, Season 84 Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame arrived, pulled a chair aside, and joined as the Blue Eagles mentor, who’s mostly wearing a serious face in-game with his stabbing stare, showed his doting side and exchanged a light moment with the naturalized Filipino center.

Baldwin grabbed Kouame’s head, gave him a pat on the cheek, and asked: “How are you?” Kouame simply replied, “I’m great.”

This is just one of the many ways Baldwin showing great sportsmanship against a UP team that dealt Ateneo three historic losses in the entire season — twice in the Finals just a couple of days ago and one game in the elimination round on Labor Day when the Maroons snapped the Eagles’ 39-match win streak since October 2018.

Both squads, with their matchups dubbed “Battle of Katipunan,” equalized in the eliminations before UP had the last laugh in the Finals which were highlighted by some nail-biting and nerve-wracking moments.

The three-time UAAP champion coach just knew and accepted the fact that UP was destined for this moment and for the championship.

“It was an epic game and I’m very proud of our team,” said Baldwin before tipping his hat off to the Maroons. “But I acknowledge that UP’s fighting spirit was — I just felt like [it’s] destiny.”

READ: Patience is virtue for UAAP champions UP Fighting Maroons

The 63-year-old American-Kiwi coach wasn’t only referring to UP ending its 36-year title drought when the likes of basketball greats Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc, and Eric Altamirano spearheaded the State U to its first championship. He also implied the apparent miracle shots that CJ Cansino and JD Cagulangan fired in regulation and in overtime.

Cansino forced an overtime when he sank a three-pointer from the top of the key and off the glass with 56.7 seconds left before Cagulangan, who struggled from the field on a 4-of-12 shooting, hit back-to-back shots from beyond the arc in the extended quarter.

The second attempt silenced Ateneo once and for all as the former NCAA juniors’ MVP, who had called an isolation play before asking for a Malick Diouf screen, launched the game-winning three over the outstretched arm of Gian Mamuyac with 0.5 seconds left. The rest, as they say, is history.

“The shots they hit, those aren’t shots that normal teams make in normal games much less in a championship game,” said Baldwin with a chuckle in between.

“So you just gotta give a lot of credit to their players and their coaches and I wish they enjoy this championship and they worked extremely hard for it. They had a great season, they had an unbelievable Finals series, and you know, we weren’t quite good enough when we needed to be good enough,” added Baldwin, who had shaken hands with the 21-year-old Cagulangan himself before the Ateneo presser began.

Moving forward, a sincere Baldwin wished nothing but the best for the Maroons.

As for the graduating seniors, namely team captain Mamuyac, Tyler Tio, BJ Andrade, Raffy Verano, and Jolo Mendoza, time can only heal their wounds.

Mamuyac and Tio were respectively drafted by PBA teams Rain or Shine and Phoenix Super LPG on Sunday, May 15 while Andrade is reportedly staying with Ateneo for his last eligibility year.

“It’s a great moment for UP basketball history and I think we, all, have to acknowledge that for them,” said the former Gilas Pilipinas coach. “And for Ateneo, it’s a bitter pill but we’ll take it and we’ll lick our wounds and say goodbye to an outstanding group of seniors and they have a couple of weeks off.”

Very soon, Baldwin and the mighty Eagles will return to the court hungry and raring for redemption.

Source: Manila Bulletin (