MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) Ateneo de Manila University is headed to the UAAP Final 4 for the eighth straight season, but only after escaping with a 69-66 overtime win over the University of the East (UE), Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Blue Eagles avoided a massive upset at the hands of the Red Warriors to improve to 9-3 in Season 85, and rise to second place in the league standings. They joined the University of the Philippines (11-2) and National University (9-4) in the Final 4.
Moreover, the win kept Ateneo on track for a twice-to-beat bonus in the semifinals with two games left in their schedule -- including a finals rematch against the Fighting Maroons on Saturday.
"Winning ugly is not necessarily the way that you wanna win, but it's just as valuable in the standings, and the standings are extremely important right now with the other results," Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said after the game. "We're really happy to get that win."
Dave Ildefonso was among the heroes for Ateneo, as the second-generation star bucked a horrid shooting performance to nail the three-pointer that forced a 62-all deadlock with 43.3 seconds left in regulation.
The Blue Eagles went on to force a turnover in UE's final possession, but they could not execute in their last play, only getting an ill-advised three-pointer at the buzzer. The Red Warriors took an early 66-62 lead in the extra period off back-to-back buckets by Abdul Sawat.
But a technical foul on UE assistant coach Don Allado -- for complaining -- breathed life into Ateneo. BJ Andrade knocked down a free throw to cut the deficit to three points, 66-63, and Ange Kouame fished for a foul on Sawat in the next possession. The reigning Most Valuable Player sank both charities to make it a one-point game, 66-65, with 2:40 left.
Kouame went on to put Ateneo ahead for good as he muscled his way for a layup with 1:46 left, 67-66. The Red Warriors still had their chances, but they turned the ball over with 48.8 seconds left after a missed layup by Rey Remogat.
The Blue Eagles missed back-to-back triples, but Ildefonso was there each time to secure the offensive rebound. UE had no choice but to foul with 4.5 seconds to go, and two freebies by Forthsky Padrigao pegged the final score.
The Red Warriors had one last chance to extend the game anew, but JM Tulabut's three-pointer from the top of the key was off the mark.
"You gotta give tremendous credit to UE with the job they did. They were in control of that game for 44 minutes and they deserved better than a tough loss," said Baldwin, whose team struggled mightily for most of the game and appeared headed for a shock loss.
The Blue Eagles trailed, 62-58, with five minutes left and could not get anything going, missing point-blank shots at the rim and free throws. Ildefonso made just one of three tries for a 62-59 count with three minutes left, and both teams couldn't find their mark until Ildefonso nailed his clutch triple.
Kai Ballungay earned Player of the Game honors with 14 points 5-of-5 shooting for the Blue Eagles, while Ildefonso finished with 12 points -- making just three of 14 shots -- while also grabbing 14 rebounds. Kouame had a double-double of 12 points and 12 boards.
Squandered in the loss was a career-best 21 point effort from UE's rookie guard Remogat, who came off the bench to torch the Blue Eagles. Luis Villegas had 11 points, nine boards, five steals in two blocks in over 40 minutes of playing time.
The defeat dropped UE to 4-9, and the loss formally eliminated them from the Final 4 race.
ATENEO 69 -- Ballungay 14, Ildefonso 12, Kouame 12, Padrigao 9, Andrade 6, Gomez 6, Lazaro 5, Koon 3, Daves 2, Garcia 0, Chiu 0.
UE 66 -- Remogat 21, Villegas 11, Sawat 6, Pagsanjan 5, K. Paranada 5, Stebens 5, Payawal 5, Gilbuena 4, N. Paranada 2, Tulabut 2, Beltran 0, Alcantara 0.
Quarters: 18-11, 29-30, 47-50, 62-62, 69-66.