MANILA – Kristian Porter and Lebron Nieto yet again delivered the goods as Ateneo de Manila University advanced to the Division 2 Fearless Four of the 2023 Smart-NBTC National Finals.
Just two days after getting upset in the classification round, the Blue Eagles' two NBTC All-Stars flew high in their 74-65 triumph over Doc Boleros-NCR, Friday at Mall of Asia Arena.
Porter had 16 points, seven rebounds, and two steals, while Nieto contributed 12 points, six steals, two assists, and two rebounds for Ateneo, which swept its group phase assignments to top Pool D.
They entered the tournament as a replacement for late-scratch San Beda University before absorbing a 41-64 loss to Batang Tiaong-Quezon that relegated them to Division 2.
"The first game, we used that as our motivation. After that, we gathered ourselves and played better, played as we should," said Porter.
The Blue Eagles will face off against Team Tarlac on Saturday in the semifinals of this tournament.
Team Tarlac routed Saint Benilde International School-Laguna, 78-60, to also sweep the Magic 12 and set up that playoff on the back of a red-hot Earl Sapasap.
Sapasap, one of the standout wings from provincial qualifiers, scored 24 points to go along with nine rebounds, four assists, and four steals, and was flanked by Roby Gesultura and Russel Liwanag who got 13 and 11, respectively.
"Magandang match-up po yun sa'min kasi makaka-experience kaming makalaban ang mga player ng UAAP," said Sapasap of their mindset heading into the Fearless Four.
The other semis bracket features a battle between Don Bosco-Dumaguete and Homegrown-Australia.
The Greywolves conquered Rome Elite, 95-58, behind CJ Umali's 23 points, four assists, and three steals, as well as 18 points from Matthew Jucom.
Don Bosco's sweep of the group stage eliminated Team United-USA which was hoping for the Fil-Italians to emerge victorious to be able to move on.
On the other hand, the Fil-Australians edged out Philippine Christian University-Dasmariñas, 75-72, with Kaden Puletua fronting the effort with a 23-point, 10-rebound double-double.
PCU-Dasma, SBIS-Laguna, and Doc Boleros bowed out of the tournament with similar 1-1 slates, while Rome Elite exits with a winless record.