MANILA, Philippines – Ateneo de Manila University guard Matt Nieto downplayed his career-best scoring output against the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers last Wednesday, saying that he was simply doing his job for the Blue Eagles.
Normally a defensive-minded player, Nieto torched the Growling Tigers for a career-high 22 points in their first UAAP Season 80 encounter. He made four of his six three-pointers, and knocked down the turnaround jumper to ice the 94-84 win with 32 seconds to go.
"I'm just doing my job," said Nieto, who is in his third season for the Blue Eagles. "I'm just finding open lanes, looking for my teammates."
"Bonus na lang 'yung nakaka-shoot ako," he added. "Basically, I'm just doing my job as a point guard and the leader of the team."
Nieto was virtually unstoppable in the third frame, as he pounced on UST's porous defense to knock down open shots from beyond the arc. It was his three-pointer that gave Ateneo its biggest lead, 69-47, with 7:27 left in the third period.
Together with Thirdy Ravena, he returned to provide stability in the fourth frame after UST trimmed the deficit to one point, 80-81, with his difficult jumper proving to be the dagger.
Nieto shrugged off his three-point outburst, crediting it to his hard work in the offseason.
"I just improved, since last season, it was my weakness," he explained. "I just really practiced hard during the summer break. I'm thankful for my coaches and my teammates for giving me the confidence."
Nieto is just the latest Ateneo point guard to come up with a big game for the still unbeaten Blue Eagles. While Ravena has been the consistent double-digit scorer for the team, different guards have stepped up to provide back-up.
Jolo Mendoza, Anton Asistio, and even rookie Tyler Tio all had double-digit scoring for Ateneo this season, lending a measure of unpredictability to the team.
"It's a luxury that we have very good point guards," said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga. "It's a luxury also that these guys have very good attitudes."
"Normally, that might pose a problem for other players who would want to get 30 minutes per game, or who would want to be the main man. But our point guards, like what Matt said, they know their roles," he added.
"They're gonna distribute the ball, and when they have the open shot, they're gonna take it."
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