MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles were all impressed at how well the University of the Philippines (UP) played in their UAAP Season 80 game on Wednesday, as the Fighting Maroons came oh-so-close to giving them their first loss of the men's basketball tournament.
Indeed, UP led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter, then showed immense grit in clawing its way out of a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter. The Maroons repeatedly baited Ateneo into fouls, and two free throws by Javi Gomez de Liaño with 4:11 left tied the game at 79.
In the end, however, Ateneo's well-documented discipline on both ends of the floor allowed the Blue Eagles to pull out the victory. With Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena leading the way, the Blue Eagles outscored the Maroons 15-3 in the final four minutes to seize a 96-82 win.
"It was a tough game, a challenging game," said coach Sandy Arespacochaga after the hard-fought victory. "We were challenged from the very start to the very end, so you know, credit to UP for that."
The Ateneo players noted that UP truly came prepared. "They really scouted us well," said Nieto.
"They forced us to take shots that we didn't want to take, and then they exposed us, they exposed us individually," added first-year player Gian Mamuyac. "They didn’t run anything – they just isolated, and we couldn't stop them in the first half."
"Luckily, in the second half, we were able to contain them and contain their scorers."
Thirdy Ravena struggled mightily against UP's defense, hitting only two of his 11 shots. He made up for it with nine rebounds and six assists, and a block on UP rookie Juan Gomez de Liaño that essentially sealed their win late.
Afterward, he said that UP gave Ateneo its best shot.
"Ito 'yung isa sa mga talagang magandang laro ng UP," he said. "Ibang klase 'yung pinakita nila."
"Talagang nahirapan kami. The lead changed several times. Binigay kami ng laban ng UP," he added.
Yet at the end of the day, the Blue Eagles were thankful for the challenge that UP gave them. Coach Tab Baldwin exhorted his players to play at a higher level at halftime, and the Blue Eagles responded.
"Binigyan kami ng adjustment ni coach, but it's not really an adjustment na technical," Ravena explained. "It's more on like … You have to have the character, the discipline, and you have to show the effort na you really want to win."
"Because UP is really giving it their all," Ravena added emphatically. "The only you'll be able to win it is, if you show the same amount of character, or if you exceed that."
Their effort in the final quarter was a source of delight for their coaches after seeing the team labor in the first three frames.
"Towards the end of the third and fourth quarter, our players showed a lot of character," said Arespacochaga. "We're happy with this win, and we're happy that the character of our players certainly showed."
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