UP shocks Ateneo anew, on verge of UAAP crown

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 08 2022 06:56 PM | Updated as of May 09 2022 10:25 AM

Carl Tamayo and the UP Fighting Maroons are on the brink of ending a 36-year title drought. UAAP Media.
UP's Zavier Lucero helped the Fighting Maroons claim a come-from-behind win against the Ateneo Blue Eagles.UAAP Media.

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) The University of the Philippines is on the verge of ending a 36-year title drought in the UAAP, after yet another thrilling victory against the Ateneo de Manila University.

The Fighting Maroons pulled off an 81-74 overtime triumph against the top-seeded Blue Eagles in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 84 Finals, Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-3 series.

UP is now on the brink of winning their first UAAP championship since 1986, when they were led by the likes of Benjie Paras and Ronnie Magsanoc.

This time, it was Zavier Lucero who spurred the Fighting Maroons to the comeback, refusing to give up even after Ateneo took a 68-60 lead with just five minutes to go. UP also rose to the occasion on defense, flustering the usually calm Blue Eagles and forcing them into a series of bad decisions down the stretch.

"Maraming ups and downs na nangyayari, at both ends, sa offense and defense namin," said UP coach Goldwin Monteverde, whose team trailed by as much as 12 points in the contest. "We just kept reminding each other not to give up, just continue what we're doing, just try to be consistent sa game."

This is UP's second win against Ateneo in an eight-day span, as they ended the Blue Eagles four-year, 39-game winning streak last May 1 to deny the defending champions an elimination round sweep and an outright Finals berth.

Ricci Rivero scored 19 points, and hit the go-ahead three-point play in overtime to make up for his seven turnovers. He made just 4-of-16 field goals, but was a perfect 11-of-11 at the line. Lucero, who missed all nine field goals in their Final 4 game against La Salle last Friday, had 17 points and 13 rebounds. James Spencer had 13 points, including the three-pointer that sent the game to overtime.

Ateneo appeared to be on the verge of a Game 1 win when they took a 68-60 lead off a Raffy Verano layup, but UP's defense clamped down from there while Lucero showed no quit particularly on the offensive boards. 

His putback with 2:11 left made it a six-point game, 68-62, and he made it a four-point game with another bucket in transition, 68-64, with 1:17 to play. A Verano jumper gave Ateneo some breathing room, 70-64, with under a minute to go.

Ateneo looked to have dodged a bullet when Carl Tamayo missed two free throws, but Lucero was there to grab the offensive board and score the putback, while also drawing a foul from Ange Kouame. He completed the three-point play to make it a one-possession game, 70-67, with 32.6 seconds to go.

UP's defense forced Ateneo into a turnover with 27.6 seconds left, and off a UP timeout, Spencer came off a screen to drill a long three-pointer that knotted the count. Ateneo had one more chance but they were given no room by the Fighting Maroons, who swarmed Kouame with seconds left and forced a shot-clock violation.

"Yeah, it was designed play by Coach Gold. Honestly, I was just thinking, my shot's feeling good, have no hesitation on the catch. If no one's near me, I'm just gonna let it fly, and I let it fly," said Spencer of his clutch trey -- the second time that he has nailed a big three-pointer against Ateneo.

In overtime, the Blue Eagles looked to have taken the advantage when Malick Diouf fouled out, and they maximized the opportunity with Kouame scoring inside for a 74-71 count with four minutes left.

But Lucero sank a wide-open triple in UP's next possession, and the Maroons flustered Ateneo into back-to-back shot-clock violations. With 2:31 left, Rivero scored off his patented side-stepping layup, and drew a foul from Gian Mamuyac. He completed the three-point play for a 77-74 advantage.

Ateneo committed yet another turnover in their next possession, and it was Tamayo who made the most of it with a steal and a bucket in transition for a 79-74 cushion with 2:05 to go. The Blue Eagles had no answer from there, and suffered a further blow when veteran point guard SJ Belangel turned his left ankle with 1:36 left in the game and had to be helped off the court.

UP out-scored Ateneo, 11-4, in the overtime period and ended the game with 10 unanswered points.

Kouame, the front-runner for MVP honors in Season 84, had 18 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and four blocks to lead the Blue Eagles. Belangel and Verano each had 17 points, but no other Atenean reached double-digits. Dave Ildefonso, in particular, struggled in his first Finals game and was held to just six points on 2-of-6 shooting.

Ateneo committed a whopping 26 turnovers in the game, leading to 16 points for UP. They also shot themselves in the foot by making just 11 of their 25 free throws, while UP went 20-of-24 from the charity stripe.

Game 2 of the series is on Wednesday, still at the MOA Arena.

The Scores:

UP 81 -- Rivero 19, Lucero 17, Spencer 13, Diouf 10, Tamayo 10, Cagulangan 4, Alarcon 4, Abadiano 4, Fortea 0, Ramos 0.

ATENEO 74 -- Kouame 18, Belangel 17, Verano 17, Mamuyac 7, Ildefonso 6, Andrade 3, Chiu 2, Koon 2, Daves 2, Tio 0, Padrigao 0.

Quarters: 17-19, 32-31, 49-54, 70-70, 81-74.