MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) Ateneo de Manila University is just one win away from a sweep and an outright finals berth in the UAAP Season 80 men's basketball tournament.
This, after the Blue Eagles withstood an impressive effort from University of the Philippines (UP) and hacked out a tough 96-82 victory in Round 2 of the Battle of Katipunan on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The final score does not fully reflect how competitive the game was, however, as the Fighting Maroons led by as much as 12 points, and remained within striking distance with under three minutes left. In the end game, however, the Blue Eagles proved to be the more composed team as they pulled out their 13th win in a row.
"There was certainly a lot of fight in UP in this game," said Ateneo coach Sandy Arespacochaga after the game. "They showed their heart, they came up with a lot of intensity from the very start. There are a lot of individuals in UP who stepped up."
"But towards the end of the third and the fourth quarter, our players showed a lot of character," he added. "We're happy with this win, and we're happy that the character of our players certainly showed."
Matt Nieto stepped up for the Blue Eagles, scoring 19 points including a crucial three-pointer with 2:57 left that gave his team some breathing room. Thirdy Ravena was limited to only 10 points on two-of-11 shooting, but he contributed nine rebounds, six assists, and four steals.
With the win, Ateneo is now at 13-0 heading into Sunday's marquee match-up against defending champion and archrival De La Salle University.
But for two and a half quarters, the Fighting Maroons looked as though they were on their way to giving the Blue Eagles their first loss of Season 80.
UP knocked down eight three-pointers in the first half to seize a 48-42 lead, and that advantage ballooned to 12 points, 54-42, after Juan Gomez de Liaño anchored a 6-0 blast to open the third frame.
The Blue Eagles worked their way back, thanks to a triple from Gian Mamuyac and a slam dunk by Ravena, but the rookie Gomez de Liaño converted back-to-back triples to restore a 10-point advantage, 60-50, with 6:48 left in the frame.
The Ateneo reserves stepped up in the latter part of the third period, however, with Jolo Mendoza and Isaac Go scoring on consecutive possessions to ensure that they entered the payoff period down by just one point, 63-64.
From there, the Blue Eagles elevated their play. Go connected on two three-pointers that allowed the Blue Eagles to push ahead, 79-68, with six minutes to go against a suddenly out-of-sync UP. To make matters worse, the Fighting Maroons had to play the rest of the way without big man Ibrahim Outtara, who fouled out with 6:19 left in the game.
Gomez de Liaño refused to let UP go away easily. His and-1 off a Nieto foul sparked an 11-0 burst, as UP repeatedly took advantage of Ateneo's turnovers. Two free throws by Javi Gomez de Liaño with four minutes left tied the game at 79.
Unfortunately for the Fighting Maroons, it was all Ateneo from there. Mendoza connected on two free throws then assisted on a Vince Tolentino jumper, and Nieto's booming triple made it 86-81. UP came to within four off a free throw by Paul Desiderio with 2:44 left, but it was the last time they got on the board.
Ateneo ended the game on a 15-3 run, and outscored UP, 33-18, in the fourth frame. Ravena, who struggled with his shot all game long, iced the win with a block on the younger Gomez de Liaño that led to an easy bucket by Tolentino on the other end.
"The game was really tough," acknowledged Nieto, who played with four fouls in the final three minutes. "They were prepared, and they scouted us well. But as I've said before, we're always up to the challenge. We were composed, and hindi kami nag-iwanan."
After making eight of their 16 triples in the first half, UP knocked down only three of 15 attempts in the second half. The rookie Gomez de Liaño scored 21 points and grabbed six boards, but also turned the ball over seven times.
Desiderio scored 18 points, and Jun Manzo added 13 markers. But Manzo fouled out of the game with 1:38 left, and Desiderio was shut down in the second half after torching Ateneo for 13 points in the first two quarters.
The loss is costly for UP, as they drop to 5-8 with just one game left on their schedule – a date against National University on Saturday.
As it stands, they hope that Far Eastern University drops its own assignment against Adamson University, then beat the Bulldogs in order to force a tie for the fourth spot in the league standings.
ATENEO 96 – Nieto Ma 19, Go 13, Mamuyac 13, Ravena 10, Tolentino 10, Nieto Mi 9, Verano 8, Ikeh 6, Asistio 4, Mendoza 4, Tio 0, Black 0
UP 82 – Gomez de Liano Ju 21, Desiderio 16, Manzo 13, Dario 8, Gomez de Liano Ja 7, Lim 4, Ouattara 3, Jaboneta 3, Webb 2, Romero 2, Lao 2, Prado 1, Vito 0, Ricafort 0, Harris 0
Quarter scores: 22-23, 42-48, 63-64, 96-82
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