MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE) Defending champion Ateneo de Manila University continues its march in the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament, becoming the first team to secure a Final 4 appearance.
This, after overcoming archrival De La Salle University, 77-69, on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Blue Eagles have now won 20 straight games dating back to Season 81, and improved to 10-0 in Season 82. They also swept their season series against La Salle, having routed the Green Archers, 81-69, in the first round.
Adrian Wong scored 18 points, making four of his seven three-pointers, while Thirdy Ravena had 13 points and 7 rebounds. Ange Kouame put up 10 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
"It was a good game of basketball," said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin. "In the first half, we looked more nervous than La Salle did. I thought they looked very composed, sure of themselves, and understanding of what they wanted to do."
"If Adrian doesn't come out hot, we're in trouble in the first half. Fortunately, he did," he added. "It's an example of somebody in our roster stepping up, and having a good game when needed."
It was not an entirely comfortable victory for the Blue Eagles, as La Salle refused to be deterred even when they posted double-digit leads.
Back-to-back slam dunks by Kouame and Ravena gave Ateneo a 44-36 lead and prompted La Salle to sue for time, and the Green Archers responded with two straight three-pointers by Andrei Caracut to again make it a close game. La Salle was down by just three points, 53-50, with under 30 seconds left in the third period, thanks to an Encho Serrano lay-up, but SJ Belangel found Will Navarro open for a bucket that gave Ateneo a 5-point cushion, 55-50, heading into the final frame.
Ateneo took an 11-point lead, 61-50, after Will Navarro drilled a three-pointer and Mike Nieto completed an and-1 to open the fourth quarter. Again, it was Caracut who spurred La Salle: the veteran scored a difficult turnaround jumper, part of a quick 5-0 blast that made it a 6-point game with still 7:47 left, 61-55.
The Blue Eagles responded well, however. Ravena and Gian Mamuyac conspired for a 7-0 run that gave Ateneo their biggest lead, 68-55, with 3:50 to go. Jamie Malonzo drained a three-pointer on the other end, but Wong responded with a triple of his own to keep the defending champions ahead, 71-58, with two minutes left.
A triple by Serrano and a lay-up by Brandon Bates helped La Salle trim the deficit, but the Blue Eagles were steady at the line in the endgame to keep the Green Archers at bay.
Serrano finished with 15 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal, while Baltazar had 12 points and 9 boards. Malonzo finished with a double-double of 10 points and 12 boards, while Caracut (11) and Aljun Melecio (10) both reached double-digits as well.
La Salle saw its two-game winning streak come to an end, and they dropped to 4-5 in the tournament.
ATENEO 77 -- Wong 18, Ravena 13, Kouame 10, Navarro 9, Mamuyac 6, Belangel 5, Mi. Nieto 5, Daves 3, Ma. Nieto 3, Tio 3, Go 2.
LA SALLE 69 -- Serrano 15, Baltazar 12, Caracut 11, Malonzo 10, Melecio 10, Manuel 7, Bartlett 2, Bates 2, Lojera 0.
Quarter scores: 19-15, 36-30, 55-50, 77-69.
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