MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) Ateneo de Manila University will be armed with a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final 4, after the Blue Eagles held on for a 75-67 triumph over the University of the Philippines on Saturday evening.
In front of a crowd of 14,328 fans at the Araneta Coliseum, the Blue Eagles got back at the Fighting Maroons for their first round overtime loss. They built a double-digit advantage with three minutes left, then weathered a trademark UP rally in the closing stretch to rack up their tenth win of UAAP Season 85.
Ateneo's 10-3 record assures them of at least a Top 2 finish in the elimination round; they can clinch the No. 1 seed with a victory over Adamson University in their last assignment next Wednesday.
The Fighting Maroons, meanwhile, finished the elimination round with an 11-3 record; the defending champion will still have a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals.
Leading the way for the Blue Eagles is reigning Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame, who had a massive 14-point, 17-rebound double-double while making six of his eight shots from the field. Dave Ildefonso recovered from a brutal first half to score 15 points -- including 12 in a blistering third quarter performance.
"Their effort in the second half, in the annals of my coaching time, that's as gutsy as it gets. And why? Because that's what UP demands. If you don't give that, they will run over you. That's the way they are. Like it or not, you gotta deal with it," Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said, as he lavished praise on the performance of the Blue Eagles.
"That's the hallmark of people with character: when the occasion demands something different than your normal, you have to respond or else you're just average. We don't aspire to be average. We aspire to be special," he added.
UP erased a first-quarter deficit and snatched a 37-35 advantage at the half, but the Blue Eagles turned things around in the third period thanks to Ildefonso.
The second-generation star missed all seven of his field goals in the first half, and committed a turnover in their first possession of the third quarter. But two free throws off a foul by Carl Tamayo allowed him to get his rhythm, and he knocked down a three-pointer that knotted the count at 42 with 6:25 to play.
Ildefonso went on to match UP's output in the quarter with 12 points. His three-pointer with 2:23 to play touched off a 15-0 run that stretched into the fourth period; Ildefonso capped the rally with his third triple of the game to give Ateneo a 60-49 lead with 7:34 left in the contest.
The Fighting Maroons stayed within striking distance thanks to Carl Tamayo, whose hard work on the boards led to close-range buckets for the Maroons. But Ateneo was ready to respond: a jumper by Matthew Daves and a three-pointer from Gab Gomez gave them their biggest lead, 73-60, with 3:18 left.
Tamayo anchored a 7-0 run that put UP within six points, 73-67, with a minute and a half to go but the Fighting Maroons ran out of time to complete their comeback. Kouame made big plays defensively down the stretch, and two free throws by Kai Ballungay sealed the win for the Blue and White.
Tamayo finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in a superb performance for UP, while Harold Alarcon was their only other player in double-digits with 10 points. Malick Diouf battled foul trouble throughout the game, finishing with just seven points and seven rebounds.
ATENEO 75 -- Ildefonso 15, Kouame 14, Padrigao 13, Andrade 8, Koon 7, Daves 6, Gomez 5, Ballungay 4, Lazaro 3, Chiu 0, Garcia 0.
UP 67 -- Tamayo 20, Alarcon 10, Cagulangan 9, Fortea 9, Diouf 7, Galinato 7, Spencer 5, Lucero 0, Abadiano 0, Ramos 0.
Quarters: 23-18, 35-37, 53-49, 75-67.