The Ateneo Blue Eagles soared to the top simply because they played the game the right way—and the figures they produced in the eliminations round are proof of their dominance

By Klyde Manansala | Photo by Tristan Tamayo

For the third year in a row, the Ateneo Blue Eagles are making their way back in the finals stage of the UAAP Season 81 after a dominant win over the FEU Tamaraws yesterday, 80-61.

There are already a lot of things that have been said about Ateneo’s flawless game under a brilliant mentor in Tab Baldwin. As predicted by pretty much everybody else, the Blue Eagles soared high in the eliminations round, finishing with a 12-2 record.

For Ateneo, the formula for winning is not a complex thing: They take pride offensively and defensively. They have a rotating cast of contributors from both ends who are familiar with the ins and outs of each others’ games. Their approach to win isn’t rocket science—they just play the game the right way, and it has paid dividends for them. They are simply going about their business.

Now, you ask, what are the chances of Ateneo winning another title this year? Can they topple the resurgent UP Maroons? What if they cross paths with the tough Adamson Falcons who handed one of their losses? Or does it really matter whom they will face in the finals? Let’s have the Blue Eagles’ complete stat performance in the eliminations round outlined and let these numbers do the talking:

The game is being played faster than ever before—and teams have benefited from operating at a faster rate. Transition offense provide countless opportunities to score, but that isn’t the priority for Ateneo. They are nowhere near the top of the league in terms of running and gunning, but they still averaged 15 assists per outing by relying on well-executed half court set ups. Ateneo shoots 39.8 percent from the field and has produced a 16.9 point differential in each of their wins—they slaughtered their opponents.

“If there’s one thing that’s truly been Ateneo’s most valuable weapon, it’s their suffocating defense. Ateneo forced turnovers at the league’s highest rate with almost 19 per game and second in the steals per game with 6.4. They have been able to limit their opponents to just 62.3 points per game.

But forget the scoring, if there’s one thing that’s truly been Ateneo’s most valuable weapon, it’s their suffocating defense. Ateneo forced turnovers at the league’s highest rate with almost 19 per game and second in the steals per game with 6.4. They have been able to limit their opponents to just 62.3 points per game.

The defending champs are all about getting stops and taking full advantage of it. Not only did they lead the league in perimeter points allowed (17.1), adding the 6’10” Angelo Kouame—a shot-blocking menace with an amazing athleticism—in the front court became a vital part in Ateneo’s disruptive defense. Ateneo averaged 5.6 blocks per game, with Kouame averaging 3.2 per outing. The Blue Eagles have also taken care of the glass well as they lead the league in rebounds with 47.1 per game. Thanks again to Kouame who averaged 13.6 per outing.

Ateneo’s dominance has been remarkable in the past years. They have a customary elite playmaker in Matt Nieto and a two-way veteran in Thirdy Ravena. Not to mention that they have a solid bench unit that could actually retain leads. When Ateneo is at their full strength, they are almost unstoppable. Given these numbers, it might be tough to pull off an upset against the kings of this league.