MANILA, Philippines—Angelo Kouame’s first UAAP rivalry game was one to remember, as the Ateneo big man spearheaded the Blue Eagles’ 71-55 triumph over De La Salle University on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Against a tough La Salle frontline, Kouame put up 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, along with 13 rebounds and five blocks. The game was a showcase of his skills: Kouame did a little bit of everything, from bringing down the ball to knocking down a triple, before he punctuated the huge win with a breakaway slam dunk inside the final minute.
“That was a good game for all of us,” said the 19-year-old from the Ivory Coast. “Just play the game, enjoy the game. That’s what me and my teammates tried to do. We wanted to play collectively as a team.”
While it was certainly a team effort for the defending UAAP champions, Kouame’s performance clearly caught the attention of the Ateneo gallery, which began a brief M-V-P chant for the center as he was taking free throws in the fourth quarter.
Kouame did not hear the chants, but it was just as well. For him, the MVP trophy is not a concern.
“The main point is not to be MVP, it's to be champion. So our focus is on that, to be champion, not the MVP trophy,” said Kouame.
Still, to hear the crowd shower him with praise was gratifying for Kouame, who has steadily elevated his performances since a four-point outing in their first game of the season — a loss to Adamson University.
“Even in school, around school, everyone told me: 'Keep doing what you do,'” Kouame said.
“So that's kind of motivation for me. And I really appreciate that from them, and I say thank you to the Ateneo community for all of the things they did for me.”
For Ateneo coach Sandy Arespacochaga, what is important is that Kouame’s growth as a player goes hand-in-hand with the Blue Eagles’ growth as a team.
“You could see how we’re evolving as a team also utilizing each other’s strengths and covering for our weaknesses. One of the strengths of course is Ange’s presence inside so I’m very happy to see him continue to evolve his game,” said Arespacochaga.
“And hopefully, he continues to improve as well as Thirdy (Ravena) and all the other guys. I think that’s key for us. Every game we really look forward to improving our game.”
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)