MANILA, Philippines -- Joshua Lazaro was the catalyst for Ateneo de Manila University's massive comeback against Far Eastern University (FEU), said coach Tab Baldwin as he hailed the sophomore forward's impact on their game.
The Blue Eagles trailed by as much as 19 points in the first half and appeared headed for a costly defeat, before turning things around in the second half.
They out-scored FEU, 44-24, in the final two quarters to take a 71-65 victory and stay on track for a spot in the Final 4. Reigning Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame took Player of the Game honors with 20 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and a block, while coming up with big defensive stops down the stretch.
But for Baldwin, it was the hard work of Lazaro on the boards that keyed Ateneo's rally in the third period. Lazaro collected eight rebounds -- four of them on the offensive end -- in an 18-minute stint.
"I thought he's a big reason that we got things turned around. His rebounding was inspirational, and that's what we needed," Baldwin said after the win that improved Ateneo's record to 8-3 in UAAP Season 85. "We needed some inspiration in order to do a lot of different things well."
At one stretch in the third quarter, Lazaro collected three consecutive offensive rebounds to keep the possession alive for Ateneo. His energy and tenacity clearly fired up the Blue Eagles, including Kouame who would go on to take over on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter.
"During that stretch, nasa isip ko lang to do what the team needs, to give what the team needs. I just kept working, and I just did what I could to help the team," said Lazaro.
"The inspiration -- that's why Josh is here. We needed inspiration. Ange was inspired by Josh. And, when your team needs that, we're just thankful that we've got several players, I believe, that can step into that role," Baldwin noted.
Lazaro would make just one of two field goals for two points, but he believes that his impact on other areas of the game is a good boost for his confidence as the elimination round of UAAP Season 85 winds down.
"Siyempre, big help sa confidence ko," said Lazaro. "I think it's a big confidence-boost, going to the next games, not only for me [but] for the whole team."
"I think 'yung chemistry namin this game, ano siya, maganda 'yung chemistry namin. I think we'd use that coming into the next games," he added.
Ateneo will close out their elimination round schedule against University of the East, University of the Philippines, and Adamson University. A win against the Red Warriors on Wednesday will clinch them a spot in the Final 4.
UAAP Season 85 is streaming on iWantTFC every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.