MANILA, Philippines -- Ange Kouame celebrated his coronation as the UAAP Most Valuable Player by ensuring that Ateneo de Manila University lives to fight another day in the Season 84 finals.
The naturalized Filipino center tallied a historic statline in the Blue Eagles' 69-66 victory against the University of the Philippines (UP) in Game 2, which allowed them to force a decider in the best-of-3 series.
Kouame put up 14 points, 14 rebounds, and eight blocks in 32 minutes. His eight blocks were the most in the UAAP finals since statistics were digitized in 2003, breaking a record held by another former Ateneo player Nonoy Baclao who had seven blocks in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 71 finals against De La Salle University in 2008.
"I was trying to stay in the moment," Kouame said after the game, where Ateneo held off UP in the closing seconds to tie the series at one game apiece. "Just let the game come to me and enjoy the process at the same time."
"It was really fun to be out there, be there with my teammates, enjoy the moment, the big moment," he added.
Kouame received his MVP trophy ahead of the game, becoming the first Ateneo player since Kiefer Ravena in 2014 and 2015 to win the top individual honor in the UAAP.
But the Ivory Coast-born center stressed afterward that the award had no impact on his performance as all of his focus was on Game 2, which was a do-or-die affair for the Blue Eagles.
"For me, it really didn't matter at the moment," he said. "I talked to [my teammates] before the game and it won't be enjoyable for me to see them outside, on the corner, and feel like, 'Oh, I'm an MVP.'"
"That is not my mindset," he stressed. "Like I said, them and I went through a lot, so I really wanna enjoy these moments with them."
Kouame had plenty of support in Game 2, with Tyler Tio delivering 14 points and Dave Ildefonso bouncing back to contribute 10 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
As a team, Ateneo had a 49-42 rebounding advantage and limited their turnovers to just 16, after giving the ball away 26 times in Game 1. They could have had a more comfortable win if not for their continued struggles at the free throw line, where they shot just 11-of-20.
The Blue Eagles also showed far greater composure in Game 2 than they did in the first game, where they committed three shot-clock violations in overtime and appeared to fluster in the face of UP's defense. This time around, they attacked the UP defense, with Kouame and Ildefonso fishing for crucial fouls.
SJ Belangel and Gian Mamuyac also got crucial steals in the final two minutes that helped Ateneo maintain a slim lead.
Game 3 is on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena.