MANILA, Philippines—(2nd UPDATE) For the second straight year, the Ateneo Blue Eagles are kings of the UAAP.
The Blue Eagles defeated University of the Philippines 99-81 in Game 2 of the Season 81 finals on Wednesday in front of a mammoth crowd at Araneta Coliseum to claim back-to-back collegiate championships.
It was also Ateneo's 10th UAAP championship overall in men's basketball.
The Blue Eagles completed an impressive title defense that saw them go 12-2 in the elimination round, overpower Far Eastern University in the final 4, then sweep the Fighting Maroons in the "Battle of Katipunan" in the best-of-3 finals.
The defending champions beat UP 88-79 in Game 1 on Saturday to move on the brink of the repeat.
"I'm just very blessed, very, very blessed to work with these guys," Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said.
"I think we learned some things from Game 1," he added. "There were some strategies that were fairly apparent from UP that we made adjustments to. And Thirdy had one of those games, one of those special games. He proved today what a special player he can be."
Thirdy Ravena led the charge for the Blue Eagles, scoring a career-best 38 points on 13-of-18 shooting, including 5-of-7 three-pointers. He added 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals, and was the hands-down choice for the finals MVP award.
Ange Kouame, who struggled in Game 1, bounced back in tremendous fashion as he put up 22 points and 20 rebounds, while Raffy Verano added 11 points. Anton Asistio, the lone graduating player for Ateneo, had 6 points in his final game.
With a raucous crowd of 23,471 fans watching, the Blue Eagles broke the game open late in the first quarter, thanks in part to rookie point guard SJ Belangel.
The reserve playmaker anchored a 7-0 burst to end the quarter for Ateneo, as he scored back-to-back lay-ups before assisting Isaac Go on a three-pointer to give the defending champions a 25-13 lead heading into the second quarter.
UP's offense got on track in the second, thanks to Paul Desiderio and Juan Gomez de Liano. A triple by Gomez de Liano, plus a lay-up by Bright Akhuetie, made it 41-34 with still two minutes to play in the half.
Once again, however, it was Ateneo that ended the half on a strong note. Thirdy Ravena sparked a 7-3 exchange in the final minute, giving the Blue Eagles a 48-37 advantage at the break.
Ateneo showed no let-up in the second half, pouring it on against a sluggish UP defense. After taking a 70-56 lead at the end of the third period, the Blue Eagles simply overwhelmed the Fighting Maroons in the fourth quarter.
Ravena was unstoppable, scoring 18 points in the payoff period including 3 3-pointers. The Blue Eagles led by as many as 22 points, 81-59, with 6:54 left after Matt Nieto scored off a fine assist by Raffy Verano.
Ravena, who missed out on the Mythical Team, highlighted his performance with a slam dunk at the 1:02 mark for a 97-76 lead. His 38 points were the highest output in the Finals in 15 years.
"Coach Tab said na bawal kami mag-let up during the game," Ravena said. "We can't be casual. It was the last 40 minutes, and binigay lang namin lahat as a team."
Ateneo, the best offensive and defensive team in the league, shot a blistering 50.67% in Game 2. The Blue Eagles had a huge 51-33 advantage off the boards, and their 15 offensive rebounds led to 18 second-chance points.
UP was no slouch offensively, making 42.25% of their field goals. Unfortunately, the Fighting Maroons simply could not keep Ateneo from scoring; Ravena, in particular, burned every defender sent at him.
"My mission was to give everything that I got," said Ravena. "I didn't expect to score. It just came na pumapasok 'yung binigay sa akin ng teammates ko."
Ateneo won its final 10 games of the season after going 5-2 in the first round of the tournament.
UP, meanwhile, saw a magical season come to an end in heartbreaking fashion. Juan Gomez de Liano scored 24 points, while Bright Akhuetie had 19 points and 8 rebounds. Paul Desiderio, in his last game for UP, had 15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, and was showered with love by the massive UP crowd at the end of the game.
Though the Fighting Maroons bid goodbye to Desiderio, Jerson Prado, JJ Espanola, Gelo Vito, and Diego Dario, they figure to be an even better team next year when they welcome Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero to the team.
Ateneo (99) -- Ravena 38, Kouame 22, Verano 11, Tio 7, Nieto Ma. 6, Asistio 6, Belangel 6, Go 3, Nieto Mi. 0, Mamuyac 0, Mendoza 0, Andrade 0, Black 0, Wong 0, Daves 0, Navarro 0.
UP (81) -- Gomez de Liaño Ju. 24, Akhuetie 19, Desiderio 15, Gomez de Liaño Ja. 11, Dario 8, Lim 2, Vito 2, Manzo 0, Jaboneta 0, Murrell 0, Spencer 0, Prado 0, Española 0, Longa 0.
Quarterscores: 25-13, 48-37, 70-56, 99-81
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