Ateneo downs UP, as UAAP finals go to a decider

Karl Cedrick Basco, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 11 2022 08:18 PM | Updated as of May 11 2022 08:58 PM

Photo from UAAP Media Bureau
Photo from UAAP Media Bureau

Ange Kouame churned out MVP numbers with 14 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 blocks, leading the Ateneo Blue Eagles to a 69-66 win over the UP Fighting Maroons in Game 2 of the UAAP men's basketball finals Wednesday.

The Fighting Maroons dug themselves out of a 15-point hole, and looked ready to orchestrate another massive comeback victory at Mall of Asia Arena.

But SJ Belangel made a key defensive stop and a basket late, Ateneo sank enough free throws down the stretch to keep its season going and force a do-or-die.

Game 3 is on Friday.

This UP team, which has time and again proven to be a never-say-die squad when the stakes are at their highest, fell behind by as many as 15 points in the second half, before going ahead 57-56.

Belangel's stop and leak out for an uncontested layup proved to be the difference maker.

Tyler Tio chipped in 14 points, Dave Ildefonso 10 and Belangel 6.

"This series feels like La Salle series. It doesn't feel like college basketball. It feels like there's something else at stake. Tonight, we responded and we did the job in key statistical categories. Everything else in stat sheets looks good for us," Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin said.

UP was on pace to pull off yet another comeback win after erasing a 15-point lead of Ateneo and grabbed the lead with 5:04 left to play courtesy of Carl Tamayo’s triple, 57-56.

Kouame recovered from his missed free throws to regain the upperhand anew before SJ Belangel completed a fast break play at the 2:03 mark for a 65-61 lead. 

Ildefonso and Kouame made it a two-possession ball game after splitting their respective free throws, less than a minute left in the payoff period, 67-63.

A reckless inbound from James Spencer proved to be costly for the Fighting Maroons as it resulted in a steal and an easy layup from Gian Mamuyac that gave the Blue Eagles a 69-63 separation.

As UP went down by four with less than 20 seconds left in the ballgame, Ricci Rivero surprisingly took time in getting down with the ball before realizing they were running out of time. 

He got fouled eventually but that left them with just two seconds on the clock. Rivero drained his first freethrow before intentionally missing the second in the hopes of getting the board and set up a quick play. 

Ildefonso, however, grabbed the rebound and sealed the deal for Ateneo. 

The rookie of the year and Mythical Five member Tamayo registered a game-high 18 points and 12 rebounds while Rivero had 16 but also committed five turnovers in the game. 

Ateneo appeared composed up until the midway of the third quarter when they erected a 45-30 lead, capped by a jumper from Joshua Lazaro.

But UP, who has been known to make a comeback in the entire season, rallied back in the final two minutes of the third with an 8-0 run, six of which came from Maodo Diouf, 45-49. 

Both teams will square off one last time on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena for the winner-takes-all match.

The Scores:

ATENEO 69 -- Kouame 14, Tio 14, Ildefonso 10, Mamuyac 7, Belangel 6, Koon 6, Verano 4, Lazaro 3, Andrade 3, Chiu 2, Daves 0.

UP 66 -- Tamayo 18, Rivero 16, Cagulangan 8, Lucero 8, Diouf 8, Alarcon 5, Spencer 3, Fortea 0, Abadiano 0, Lina 0.

Quarters: 17-16, 37-28, 49-45, 69-66.