It’s business as usual for the Ateneo Blue Eagles

Sports is filled with plenty of cliches. As tired as they may be, it’s a large part of what makes it so relatable, even to no-sports fans. As the Final Four has rolled along, we’ve been treated to plenty of them.

Tapang at Talino.

Atin ‘to.

Our time is now.

While it’s easy to point to the UP Fighting Maroons as the king of cliches in the UAAP today, the Ateneo Blue Eagles have actually had that crown ever since the start of the season. It started out as early as the first game, where they were subjected to the following:

It’s harder to defend championships, than to win one.

The Blue Eagles were expected to run over teams this season. Not only did they sweep the FilOil Flying V Preseason tournament, but they also came just a game short of bagging bronze in the Jones Cup. It was a dream offseason for the Blue Eagles, as they stamped their mark as overwhelming title favorites. The fans knew it, and even if they never said so, they also knew the pressure that was put on them.

Fun fact: these are college kids dealing with this the immense pressure of living up to the bar they set for themselves. That pressure getting into their heads was nothing short of surprising.

“Of course, the pressure of being undefeated during the season,” said Thirdy Ravena. “That can create pressure within you, even subconsciously.”

Come the first day of the season against the Soaring Falcons, Ateneo looked jittery once Adamson blasted them with a late run during the end of the second quarter. It was tight from there on out, and a few stops by Adamson here and there helped them secure the win versus the Blue Eagles.

The Soaring Falcons were absolutely euphoric. The Blue Eagles, on the other hand, were brought back down to earth.

“It was a matter of Adamson’s intense preparation,” said Thirdy. “It’s also a matter of still (being) on that Jones Cup high, a little bit.”

That was cliche number one, and it was a lesson learned to start their season. Fast forward to the end the first round, and another cliche came to life.

Next man up.

The Blue Eagles and the FEU Tamaraws were locked in a tight battle. Ateneo found themselves without two of their best players. Matt Nieto had injured his finger during the second quarter, while Thirdy had fouled after an unsportsmanlike foul. Not only were they losing two core players; they also lost two of their best creators. The Blue Eagle looked lost in the clutch. Their offense was flowing but the direction was unsure.

It was especially evident in the last play, as Adrian Wong found himself with the ball to try and tie the game. There wasn’t any clear direction to where everything was going, and it wasn’t surprising the game ended with an Ateneo brick.

FEU 63, Ateneo 60. Most importantly, Ateneo 5-2. From being tagged as a potentially unbeaten team, they had lost two games already, both in the same round.

It was easy to pinpoint the loss on the loss of Matt and Thirdy, but Coach Tab Baldwin refused to look at it that way.

“I don’t think we ever want to look at it that way. We believe in our roster. We expect our roster to get the job done no matter what the circumstances are,” said Coach Tab. “You have to have confidence to step up in those situations. We believe in our players.”

“You always have to be ready when you’re put inside the court,” said Thirdy.

When Coach Tab was asked about what to expect from the team moving forward, his answer was short by strong. It was also cliche, but it held plenty of depth to it.

“Expect us to play well.”

In the second round, The Blue Eagles embodied that statement. They rolled to an undefeated round, winning six of their seven games by double digits. Everyone suddenly treated to the Blue Eagles we’ve all been expecting.

But getting there wasn’t easy, they actually had to go through challenges to achieve that near-perfect form. They had to learn how be hungry when defending a championship. They needed to instill that next man up mantra, especially when their key players were missing on the court. They seemed tired, but that’s just how it is. Sports have cliches that are said again and again, and they normally hold true. But sprinkled to those cliches very rarely, is substance. The Blue Eagles just have that.

Beyond the talent, lessons and cliches, the Blue Eagles dominated the second round simply by playing the right way. That was the biggest cliche the Blue Eagles lived up to.

If there was one game that captured their dominance this season, look no further than their Final Four win versus the FEU Tamaraws.

It’s harder to defend championships than to win one.

The Blue Eagles had been pushed to use their twice to beat advantage three times already the FEU Tamaraws. A big reason for this: hunger.

“They’re always hungrier than us.”“They’re always hungrier than us, said Thirdy. “We just had to fix our mindset, kailangan mas gutom kami sa kanila coming into the game.”

Ateneo started out the game with an 8-0 blast, punctuated by two Thirdy Ravena dunks. The script was flipped this season. The Blue Eagles were the ones who were hungry. They didn’t want a second game.

Next man up.

While Thirdy dominated, everyone else in the team had their own contributions. Angelo Kouame gobbled up the FEU frontline alive. Gian Mamuyac continued to showcase defensive brilliance. Raffy Verano was putting on his best Vince Tolentino impersonation, whipping out passes from the high post with ease. Anton Asistio provided the steady outside shooting.

Expect us to play well.

“Ang boring naman!” one fan remarked. Apologies to that fan, that’s just how the Blue Eagles are. They’re the modern day Boring Death Machine, killing teams with precise passing, screens that are set well, and cuts that are timed perfectly.

They’re back, in the Finals, where everyone expected the Blue Eagles to be in the first place.

UP has endlessly showcased their Tapang and Talino in their magical run to the Finals. They won’t back down. They won’t kneel to the mighty the Blue Eagles.

The Blue Eagles know that. They’ve had to live out their own cliches to learn that over the course of the season.

It’s harder to defend championships than to gain one.

Next man up.

Expect us to play well.

Fun fact: This is nothing new for them. They didn’t win a Five-Peat by not living out their own sports cliches. It’s a part of any dynasty, something quite frankly, UP hasn’t experienced just yet.

UP has Tapang at Talino. Ateneo will do what they do. To be specific, what’s that? Apologies for another cliche, but this one holds true:

Win championships.