When the two hottest teams in the UAAP collide, something is going to give. And the Ateneo Blue Eagles continued their hot streak, defeating the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, 88-79.
Here are our thoughts about the game.
For the Blue Eagles:
This is the first game I have seen the Blue Eagles win despite being bombarded from the outside with 13 treys, granted they answered almost everything as they retaliated with 11 howitzers of their own. With the outside shots almost cancelling each other out (45-41, UP), they won three crucial categories — inside points (30-22), turnovers points (20-9), and free throws (17-24 for Ateneo; 12-18 for UP).
Ateneo’s stars were more consistent. In a game where players were cancelling each other out, Ateneo’s Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena remained consistent forces the entire game. They carried the Blue Eagles despite a poor outing from Angelo Kouame and when the bench wasn’t too effective. Nieto finished with 27 points while Ravena added 21.
UP’s Jun Manzo who was hot for the first three quarters, then fizzled out in the fourth. Juan Gomez De Liaño scored some but not enough. Ditto with Paul Desiderio. As it was, it was Bright Akhuetie who returned and almost did a Willis Reed who carried the team in the fourth quarter.
As we previously stated, Ateneo weathered the incredible early bombardment from UP that saw the Fighting Maroons rally from a 12-point deficit to even retake the lead. Come the second half, it was Ateneo’s turn to torch the nets.
And the Blue Eagles finished off UP with terrific defense (10-8 in rebounds and 4-1 in steals) and solid.
For the Fighting Maroons:
They rode into the game on a hot five-game winning streak and dispatching the second seed (Adamson) despite having to win two games in the final 4. They came in pressure-free and as spoilers. Were there jitters for them? Not at all.
I do not believe for one moment that experience is a major factor. It is one factor but not a determining factor.
If I may digress for a moment, in 2008, Ateneo entered the finals against defending champion La Salle. They made short work of the Green Archers despite not having “championship experience.” Ditto with National University when the Bulldogs won it in 2014 over a Far Eastern University team that had players who had been to the title game before.
UP played with a lot of intensity at the start, where the Fighting Maroons even had Ateneo reeling from that aforementioned aerial barrage.
The Fighting Maroons’ bench was great and they were getting points from almost everywhere. They bucked the momentary loss of Akhuetie (that Ateneo failed to capitalize on) to keep abreast of Ateneo.
So what won this for Ateneo?
Nieto and Ravena stood tall in the crunch. And they ratcheted up the defense. Remember, defense wins championships.
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