MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) The Ateneo Blue Eagles built a large enough lead, then did just enough in the fourth quarter to fend off University of Santo Tomas, 94-84, and maintain their unbeaten slate in the UAAP Season 80 men's basketball tournament on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Matt Nieto was the hero of the game for the Blue Eagles, scoring a career-high 22 points built on 4-of-6 shooting from behind the arc, while Thirdy Ravena had 12 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists. Isaac Go added 13 points and four boards.
But the game was far closer than the final score indicated, as Ateneo nearly squandered a 22-point advantage in the third quarter. UST's Marvin Lee and Jordan Sta. Ana led a furious rally beginning in the final four minutes of the third, and managed to come as close as one point in the fourth.
Unfortunately for the Growling Tigers, they had dug themselves in too deep a hole, and the Blue Eagles were able to execute well enough in crunch time to come away with their fifth victory in a row.
"We're happy that we won the game, but at the same time, we're not happy with our performance," a somber Sandy Arespacochaga acknowledged after their win. "I'm not taking anything away from UST. They played a good game."
"But I'm not happy with how we gave up 23 points in the first quarter, 26 points in the second quarter, and 28 points in the third quarter. We limited them to 13 points in the fourth, and maybe that's how we came out with the win," he added.
"But definitely, we need to improve in that aspect. You really can't take any team for granted in this league."
The Blue Eagles had the best defensive rating in the league after four games, but the Growling Tigers repeatedly found their mark thanks to Lee and Sta. Ana, who showed no fear in slicing into the lane and throwing up shots against the Ateneo big men.
Ateneo led by as many as 22 points, 69-47, off a three-pointer by Nieto, and still led by 20, 74-54, with 4:48 to go in the third quarter thanks to a Chibueze Ikeh bucket. But the Growling Tigers would go on to outscore them, 17-2, the rest of the way.
Lee got the run going with an and-1, and Sta. Ana capped their stunning scoring spree with a couple of free throws. The Blue Eagles, also the top offensive team in the league, could not get anything going with both Nieto and Ravena on the bench.
UST got as close as one point, 81-80, with 6:24 left to play after Lee pulled up for a cold-blooded 3-pointer. Ateneo, however, got back to work after that, with Anton Asistio shaking off Lee for a runner, and Ikeh assisting on a Vince Tolentino basket. Ravena capped off the 6-0 run by losing Steve Akomo on a hesitation move that allowed him to get an easy lay-up for an 87-80 lead.
Both teams struggled from the field in the closing minutes, but UST shot itself in the foot by missing five of eight 3-pointers against the foul-prone Blue Eagles. A lay-up by Go with 1:42 left made it 92-83, and after a couple of free throws by Lee, Nieto iced the game with a difficult turnaround jumper for a 10-point lead.
"UST is a very tough team," Ravena said. "They didn't give up until the last second. Si Marvin, grabe ang ginawa niya, and he really wanted to win."
"UST is tough team, we could have played better, but it's still a win and we'll take it," he added.
Lee finished with 22 points on 6-of-14 shooting, while Sta. Ana added 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting. No other UST player finished in double digits, however, and the Growling Tigers missed 14 of 38 free throws in the 10-point loss.
With the hard-fought win, Ateneo improved to 5-0 and strengthened its hold of the top spot in the standings. UST, meanwhile, dropped to 0-5, its worst start in a decade.
ATENEO 94 – Nieto Ma 22, Go 13, Ravena 12, Mamuyac 8, Ikeh 7, Asistio 7, Nieto Mi 6, Tolentino 5, Verano 4, Tio 3, Mallillin 3, Black 2, Mendoza 2, Porter 0
UST 84 – Lee 22, Sta. Ana 21, Faundo 6, Escalambre 6, Akomo 6, Romero 6, Garcia 4, Huang 4, Basibas 4, Soriano 3, De Guzman 2, Kwawukumey 0, Arana 0
QUARTER SCORES: 29-23, 55-43, 76-71, 94-84
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