Maroons wow Baldwin

JUN Manzo of University of the Philippines fights for the loose ball against Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto of the Ateneo de Manila University during Game 1 of their Univeristy Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament best-of-three finals duel Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena. JOAQUIN FLORES

University of the Philippines (UP) lost the finals series to opener to defending champion Ateneo de Manila University over the weekend in front of a record 21,608 crowd that filled the Mall of Asia Arena.

They (Fighting Maroons) are no joke. They are a different team from the last round that we met them

But the Fighting Maroons got the respect of the Blue Eagles head coach and their top gunners as both schools shift their focus in the pivotal Game 2 of Season 81 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball finals on Wednesday.

Ateneo mentor Tab Baldwin confessed after their 88-79 win in Game 1 that they didn’t want to face UP in the finals as the Diliman-based squad has transformed into a dangerous team.

“They are much more determined and much more cohesive. They understand their personnel, they understand how to create shots much better and play for one another. So, that makes that team tougher,” said Baldwin.

“It’s something I think that coach Bo (Perasol) was working on throughout the season and I think he’s got it pretty close right,” the American-Kiwi coach added.

UP has been the talk of the town in Philippine basketball in the past few weeks after the Fighting Maroons survived three knockout games to reach the UAAP Finals for the first time in 32 years.

They needed to outlast La Salle in the final day of elimination round to grab the No. 3 seed in the Final Four round and had to overcome the twice-to-beat advantage of No. 2 seed Adamson University in the semis.

Facing the defending champions in the best-of-three championship series, the team that swept them in the eliminations by a total of 25 points (87-79 in the first round and 83-66 in the second), the Fighting Maroons were regarded as underdogs when the series started last Saturday.