MANILA, Philippines – As Ateneo shoots for a second straight UAAP men's basketball championship, the Blue Eagles expect the diehard University of the Philippines supporters to again outnumber their fans.
But the defending champions intend to keep their focus when Game 2 of the Season 81 best-of-three title series tips off at 3:30 pm on Wednesday, December 5, at the Araneta Coliseum.
"In terms of game situations, hindi namin hinahayaan na madala kami sa emotions ng crowd or sa mga cheer nila (we don't allow ourselves to get carried away by the emotions of the crowd or with their cheers) because we have a task to do, and we have to do it to the best of our abilities," said Ateneo stalwart Thirdy Ravena.
But Ateneo playmaker Matt Nieto knows that the Blue Eagles can't underestimate the power of UP's sixth man.
Last Saturday, December 1, Ateneo took Game 1 behind Nieto and Ravena, but not without the Maroons putting up a strong fight behind a raucous UP crowd that visibly outnumbered the fans in blue and white.
"Their crowd is bigger, they're noisier, they're wild," said Nieto. "'Yung crowd namin is the same – 'di sila nawawalan ng pag-asa – pero UP intense talaga. Gusto nilang manalo kasi 32 years since last na nakapasok sila sa Finals so we understand."
(Their crowd is bigger, they're noisier, they're wild. Our crowd is the same – they don't lose hope – but UP is really intense. They want to win because it's been 32 years since they last made it to the finals so we understand.)
Kouame receives boos from UP while the Ateneo crowd cheers him on! He splits from the line. 76-72, Ateneo #UAAP81Finals #OneBigUPFight #OneBigFight #OBF #ATINeo #UPFight #16Strong #AtinTo pic.twitter.com/fqlvrwqyNR — Rappler Sports (@RapplerSports) December 1, 2018
The Blue Eagles noted, though, that they've already experienced playing with a whole arena against them during the preseason when they competed in the 2018 William Jones Cup. In one game, they stunned the Taiwan national team in front of the home crowd.
"Noong nakita namin paglabas ng MOA at nakita ko 'yung mga surroundings, sabi ko na, 'Di ba naranasan na namin 'to?' Sa Taipei, 'yung Jones Cup namin. We were overpowered by the Taiwanese [fans]," recalled Nieto.
"This is nothing new to us so natatawanan ko lang, pero sabi ko, 'We really have to fight today, because if they win, they're hungrier than us.'"
(When we went on court at the MOA Arena and saw the surroundings, I said, "Didn't we already experience this?" In our Jones Cup stint in Taipei, we were overpowered by the Taiwanese fans. This is nothing new to us so I was just laughing about it, but I said, "We really have to fight today, because if they win, they're hungrier than us.")
Nieto starred in Game 1 with a career-high 27 points highlighted by a 4-of-5 clip from beyond the arc, while Ravena also shone with a near triple-double of 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists.
For Game 2, long-time Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga hopes the blue and white faithful come in droves.
"Kahit sampu lang 'yan, lalaban 'yung crowd namin for us. [But we] also want to extend our invitation to the Ateneans to watch the game on Wednesday live," said Arespacochaga. "Iba 'yung feeling eh 'pag nandoon ka. We want you to feel that you're part of the team, so we want you to be there."
(Even if there are only 10 people in the crowd, they will fight for us. But we also want to extend our invitation to the Ateneans to watch the game on Wednesday live. The feeling is different when you're there. We want you to feel that you're part of the team, so we want you to be there.) – Rappler.com
More commonly known as “Bee”, Beatrice is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Phillippine sports governance, national teams, football and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.