MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) -- Two-time defending champion Ateneo de Manila University made a resounding statement in overwhelming University of the Philippines at Araneta Coliseum on Sunday, a highly anticipated rematch of last season's finals.
In front of a crowd of nearly 20,000 fans, the Blue Eagles secured an impressive 89-63 triumph to complete a first-round sweep, and hand the Fighting Maroons their second loss of the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament.
The Blue Eagles tightened their grip of the top spot with their 7-0 win-loss record, while UP saw its four-game winning streak stopped to drop to 5-2 -- still good for solo second in the league standings.
Five players scored in double digits for Ateneo, with Ange Kouame putting up another sensational line of 19 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 blocks, while Matt Nieto had a season-high 18 points. Will Navarro was superb in the final quarter, and finished with 14 points. Thirdy Ravena added 13, and SJ Belangel came off the bench for 11.
"UP came out like gangbusters, and we figured they would," said Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin. "They really threw a lot at us. Their hustle, their fight, their determination was admirable."
"But when the tide turned, I think our guys fairly methodically stuck to the task," he added. "We didn't get carried away with the crowd, the emotion . . . I give a lot of credit to the boys for their composure today."
It was a tight game at the half, with Ateneo outscoring UP 20-10 in the second quarter to seize a slim 35-31 advantage. But the Blue Eagles began to pull away early in the third, with back-to-back hoops by Ravena and Nieto pushing their lead to 8 points, 39-31.
Things began to fall apart for UP when reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie was called for a foul and a technical foul in succession with 8 minutes left, forcing him to sit down. That gave Ravena three charities, which he all coolly converted for their first double-digit spread of the game, 42-32.
UP ended up having to play the rest of the second half without head coach Bo Perasol, after he was thrown out with 6:23 left in the third quarter for confronting a referee following a perceived no-call.
The Blue Eagles were already ahead, 47-35, at the time when Jerson Prado attempted to go for a lay-up against Ange Kouame and was rejected. An incensed Perasol charged into the court and confronted a referee, who quickly whistled him for two technical fouls. The UP coach still had to be held back by his players, as he attempted to argue with the referee.
Ravena nailed two free throws off Perasol's technical fouls, and Adrian Wong drilled a three-pointer in their extra possession for a 52-35 lead with 6:07 to play in the third frame.
"It was kind of an unusual game," said Baldwin, who acknowledged that the referees "had quite an impact on the game."
"It's up to the journalist and the fans to decide whether that was a positive or negative impact, but certainly there was quite a significant impact," he said.
Ateneo went up 61-46 after the third period, and they cruised to victory from there. Navarro repeatedly burned the UP defense for lay-ups early in the fourth, before Kouame put the finishing touches on the rout with a massive slam dunk in the final two minutes.
The Blue Eagles' went up to 27 points, 89-62, after a three-pointer by Tyler Tio with 44 seconds left.
Ateneo's 89 points were their most so far this season, and its 48% clip from the field was also its highest. The Blue Eagles had a massive 49-32 rebounding edge, and their 19 offensive boards led to 23 second-chance points.
Meanwhile, UP shot just 37.29% from the field, including only 3-of-15 three-pointers.
Kobe Paras led UP with 15 points, while Javi Gomez de Liano had 14 points. Jun Manzo added 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists, but also committed 5 turnovers. Juan Gomez de Liano only scored 8 points, and the foul-plagued Akhuetie was limited to 6 points and 8 boards.
ATENEO 89 -- Kouame 19, Ma. Nieto 18, Navarro 14, Ravena 13, Belangel 11, Tio 5, Wong 4, Go 3, Mamuyac 2, Andrade 0, Chiu 0, Credo 0, Daves 0, Maagdenberg 0, Mi. Nieto 0.
UP 63 -- Paras 15, Ja. Gomez de Liano 14, Manzo 12, Ju. Gomez de Liano 8, Akhuetie 6, Rivero 6, Webb 2, Gob 0, Jaboneta 0, Mantilla 0, Murrell 0, Prado 0, Spencer 0, Tungcab 0.
Quarters: 15-21, 35-31, 61-46, 89-63.
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