MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – In a wild, intense game between two archrivals, it was Kiefer Ravena who shone the brightest as the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles escaped with a win versus the De La Salle Green Archers, 66-63, to book a return trip to the UAAP Finals in the Season 75 Final Four match-up Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Ravena had one of the best performances of his young career, scoring a career-high 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds and seven assists.
He was at his best when it mattered most, scoring 16 points in the pivotal fourth quarter to rally the Blue Eagles back from an 11-point deficit, and assisted on several crucial baskets as well.
"Tulong-tulong lang kami in the last six minutes," Ravena said. "The shots were falling, so I took them."
"In that fourth quarter, we just put the ball in Kiefer's hands. That's what it came down to," Ateneo head coach Norman Black said. "He just took over the game, and that's what great players do. They take over when the game is on the line."
Ravena's remarkable performance helped Ateneo clinch another Finals berth, wherein they will be looking to win their fifth straight UAAP championship.
It was far from an easy victory for the top-seeded Eagles, however, as they were pushed to the limit by the Archers. La Salle came into the game as the fourth-seed and had lost both games against Ateneo in the elimination round.
But buoyed by a passionate crowd, the Archers took the fight to the Eagles right from the start and looked as though they would be able to force a do-or-die game against Ateneo, who held a twice-to-beat advantage.
"It was a great game... La Salle had a big heart. We knew something was gonna give because we were the top two defensive teams," Black said.
After taking a 31-26 lead at the half, Ateneo's offense sputtered in the third quarter. La Salle outscored them 21-7 in the period, with the normally defensive-minded Yutien Andrada (17 points) scoring on a variety of backdoor cuts and put-backs for the Archers.
La Salle led by 11, 49-38, early in the fourth quarter off another lay-up by Andrada, before Greg Slaughter made his first field goal of the game with a slam dunk from a Ravena pass.
But even Slaughter's jam did not fire up the Blue Eagles, as La Salle led by 10, 51-41, and then by nine, 53-44, with eight minutes to go in the contest.
That was when Ravena took over. His three-pointer sparked a 15-2 run that allowed the Blue Eagles to take a 59-55 lead. He assisted on the game-tying shot, a fastbreak lay-up by Juami Tiongson, and then drilled the go-ahead three-pointer.
"Sinabi ko lang sa sarili ko na ayaw kong mag-patalo," Ravena said of his fourth quarter take-over. "I didn't want to lose for my seniors and for the Ateneo community who came to watch us play."
A lay-up by Jeron Teng briefly cut the lead to two, before Slaughter scored again to make it 61-57.
But La Salle did not go quietly. Almond Vosotros drilled a triple of his own to make it a one-point game, 60-61, and then hit an awkward lay-up to put La Salle ahead, 62-61, with a little over a minute left in the game.
It was Ravena who saved the day again for Ateneo. The sophomore playmaker drove to the lane and drew the entire La Salle defense to him, leaving Ryan Buenafe all alone in the corner for a wide-open triple.
And Buenafe, evoking memories of his game-clinching three-pointer against FEU in the Season 73 Finals, drained the shot to give Ateneo the lead again, 64-62.
But the drama was not yet over. Ravena was called for an unsportsmanlike foul on Teng, giving the Archers a chance to steal the game with two free throws plus ball possession.
Teng, the most likely winner of the Rookie of the Year award, split his charities. With nine seconds to go in the game, he drove to the lane but lost the ball, giving Ateneo the final possession.
Buenafe then iced the game from the free throw line to end the scoring at 66-63.
Black said they made a slight defensive adjustment towards the middle of the fourth quarter which allowed them to catch-up to the Archers.
"Our defense just wasn't big enough in the first three and a half quarters. In the fourth quarter, we just played good defense, especially in the last six minutes," he said, and admitted that his squad was "a little bit rusty offensively" after not playing for two weeks.
Nico Salva scored 12 points, all in the first half, for the Blue Eagles, while Buenafe finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. Slaughter struggled all game and had only four points, though he had 10 boards and three blocks.
Meanwhile, Vosotros finished with 14 points for La Salle while Teng scattered 12 markers.
Neither team shot particularly well, with both La Salle and Ateneo shooting under 35% for the game.
The Eagles will now face a familiar foe in the UAAP Finals: the University of Sto. Tomas Growling Tigers.
The Tigers defeated the National University Bulldogs to make it to the Finals for the first time since 2006. In that season, they defeated the Blue Eagles in three games.
"It should be a very good series, a very competitive series," Black said. "UST is a very well-rounded team. They have guards, they have small forwards, they have bigs especially with Karim Abdul."
"But I think this game is going to be a big help for us," he added. "We were certainly challenged today. We were put to the test."
Ravena, for his part, is looking forward to rekindling his rivalry with UST's Kevin Ferrer, with whom he had several memorable battles in the UAAP juniors division.
"This is different, kasi college na," Ravena said. "I expect a tough game, kasi wala ng records sa Finals, 0-0 na. We just have to play Ateneo basketball."
Ateneo and UST split their elimination round games. The Tigers took the first, rallying from a 19-point deficit to stun the Eagles in the dying seconds. But the Eagles struck back in the second round, winning in controversial fashion.
ADMU 66 - Ravena 28, Salva 12, Buenafe 10, Tiongson 5, Slaughter 4, Chua 4, Sumalinog 3, Pessumal 0, Golla 0, Elorde 0
DLSU 63 - Andrada 17, Vosotros 14, Teng 12, N. Torres 6, T. Torres 5, Tampus 4, Van Opstal 3, Mendoza 2, Webb 0, Revilla 0
Quarter scoring: 14-12, 31-26, 38-47, 66-63