MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATED) Defending champion Ateneo de Manila University racked up its first victory of UAAP Season 81 by overpowering Katipunan neighbor University of the Philippines, 87-79, on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
After dropping their season-opener against Adamson University last Sunday, the Blue Eagles found themselves with another tough assignment as the Fighting Maroons gave them all they could handle.
But behind a steady game from Thirdy Ravena, the sniping of Anton Asistio, and a bounce-back performance from Angelo Kouame, the Blue Eagles came through with a better effort that was enough to weather UP’s barrage.
“It was really hard,” Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said of the game. “We’ve said it all along, and we’re realizing the truth of it -- it’s gonna be a fight every time now. We’re gonna get everybody’s best.”
“I thought our defense today was what carried the day for us,” he also said.
Leading by just three points, 46-43, at the half, Ateneo opened the third quarter with seven straight points to build a double-digit spread, 53-43. They maintained that advantage heading into the fourth quarter, 67-58, with Baldwin getting contributions from virtually every player.
Ateneo appeared headed for a comfortable win as they surged ahead, 75-62, with 6:56 left. To make matters worse for UP, head coach Bo Perasol was thrown out of the game after entering the playing court and confronting an official.
The Fighting Maroons lived up to their moniker, however, as they responded to their coach’s ejection by stringing together eight straight points - capped by a booming triple by Juan Gomez de Liano. That made it a five-point game with still 5:35 to go, 70-75, and prompted Baldwin to sue for time.
Out of the break, the Blue Eagles went to Ravena inside the post, and the swingman delivered with the crucial bucket. That proved enough to shake Ateneo from its stupor, and the defending UAAP champions would go on to restore a 10-point lead, 83-73, after Asistio converted a transition bucket with 3:19 left.
Still, Baldwin was all praises for UP after the game.
“That UP team is very good, aren’t they?” he said. “Juan Gomez de Liano is a heck of a player, and they got a great attacking spirit.”
Gomez de Liano, last season’s Rookie of the Year, torched Ateneo for a career-best 29 points, making 12 of his 19 attempts from the field. Bright Akhuetie struggled to score as he only had eight points, but grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out nine assists.
Ravena finished with a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds, while making nine of his 11 attempts from the free throw line. Asistio (16), Kouame (14) and Matt Nieto (12) also reached double digits for Ateneo.
UP actually shot better from the field than the Blue Eagles, 44.74% to 41.27%, but Ateneo converted 26 of their 31 charities to make up for the gap.
ATENEO 87 -- Ravena 17, Asistio 16, Kouame 14, Ma. Nieto 12, Mi. Nieto 7, Go 5, Mendoza 5, Wong 5, Verano 4, Black 2, Belangel 0, Navarro 0.
UP 79 -- Ju. Gomez de Liano 29, Desiderio 15, Manzo 9, Akhuetie 8, Ja. Gomez de Liano 5, Murrell 4, Dario 3, Gozum 2, Prado 2, Vito 2, Jaboneta 0, Lim 0, Spencer 0, Tungcab 0.
Quarters: 25-24, 46-43, 67-58, 87-79.
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