MANILA, Philippines – "We'll take it."
This was the general sentiment of the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles after they were pushed by a gusty University of Santo Tomas (UST) squad in the UAAP Season 80 tournament on Wednesday at the Big Dome.
The Blue Eagles carried a spotless 4-0 record into the game, and faced a UST squad that had lost all four of its games so far. Nevertheless, the Growling Tigers proved to be tough foes, staying within striking distance throughout the first half.
It was not until the third period that Ateneo blew the game open, leading by as much as 22 points. But their usually stout defense had no answer for UST's Marvin Lee and Jordan Sta. Ana, who spearhead a 17-2 run to end the quarter that paved the way for a nervy fourth frame.
The Blue Eagles went on to secure a 94-84 win for their fifth straight victory, but were clearly not satisfied with their performance.
"We're happy for the win," said Matt Nieto, who scored a career-high 22 points and put UST away with a clutch jumper with 32 seconds left. "More things to improve on, like our turnovers and our fouling. We gave up too many fouls."
"But a win is a win, and we'll take it," he added.
Thirdy Ravena, who had a typically solid line of 12 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists, echoed his teammate while also giving props for the Growling Tigers.
"UST is a very tough team," he said. "They really didn't give up until the last second… I mean, we could have played better, but a win is a win so we'll take it."
Nevertheless, the Blue Eagles can expect a tense review session when they watch the tape of the game, said assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
"We're happy that we won the game, but at the same time, we're not happy with our performance," said Arespacochaga.
The coach said that the Growling Tigers should be commended for their effort. Indeed, UST's record is deceptive, because they have quite a talented team that has managed to stay competitive despite a propensity to commit turnovers, he noted.
Still, Ateneo's performance left a lot to be desired, especially on the defensive end, he added.
"We're not happy with how we gave up 23 points in the first quarter, 20 points in the second, and 28 in the third," said Arespacochaga. "We limited them to 13 points in the fourth, maybe that's how we came up with the win."
"But definitely, we need to improve in that aspect, especially since you really can't take any team for granted in this league," he added.
Ultimately, the game against UST will serve as a learning experience, said the coach.
"We will look at tape, we're gonna watch the game, and we're going to give our players our feedback, and try to learn from our mistakes," he said.
"I don't think it's going to be a good feedback session for our players."
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