The heavyweight bout between Ateneo de Manila University and University of Sto. Tomas, Wednesday at Araneta Coliseum was as good as advertised.
The two teams went at it all throughout and, in the end, the difference for the Blue Eagles proved to be Ange Kouame's tip-in as well as Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto's free throws.
After the final buzzer, the head coaches of both teams took a longer while than usual exchanging words.
And there, something special apparently happened. "I was really happy that he said 'good game' to me after the game. I think that's the first time ever, you know," Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin said of UST mentor Aldin Ayo.
Of course, the multi-titled mentor was messing around and made it clear that what he said wasn't true.
Turning serious, Coach Tab yet again sang the praises of coach Aldin. "I just have so much respect for him and the way he does his job. You know, he's a blessing for Philippine basketball, for the UAAP," he said.
In the two times Baldwin and Ayo have met in the Finals, each has one series win over the other and as such, one championship at the expense of the other.
In head-to-head matchups in the UAAP, coach Tab now has the edge over coach Aldin in wins, 6-5.
For that, the UST tactician also only has good words for the Ateneo shot-caller. "Sabi niya sa akin, 'I told you it's going to be fun.' I told him, 'Good game, coach,'" the former shared.
He then continued, "I have nothing but respect for Coach Tab. He made the UAAP better because he raised the level of competition. He made the players better - not only his players, but other players also. He made the coaches better."
That doesn't mean, however, that Coach Aldin will not go all-out in the rematch between the two teams in the second round. "For my part, I love the challenge. Ako, naggo-grow rin ako because of him and siguro sila rin, ganun din," he said.
He then continued, "That's the good thing about competition, about sportsmanship. You handle it well, you take it well then everybody benefits from it."
Indeed, even though they were on the winning side, Ateneo and its head coach could only acknowledge they only became better because of UST and its mentor. "There's a lot of learnings for us from this game. This is going to make us, I believe, a lot better basketball team because Aldin's team has a way of doing that," Coach Tab said.
He then continued, "They have a way of finding your weaknesses and I've coached against him enough to know that after you play him, there's a lot of patchwork to be done on the things that his team exposes."
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