MANILA, Philippines—A title series that had been at times testy and ill-tempered ended in respectful fashion on Wednesday night, after the Ateneo Blue Eagles clobbered the University of the Philippines to claim the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball crown.
Tempers had been high after Ateneo won Game 1 on Saturday, 88-79, especially after Ange Kouame inadvertently caused an injury to UP center Bright Akhuetie.
Akhuetie recovered enough to play in Game 2, but the Blue Eagles were simply too much for the Fighting Maroons. Thirdy Ravena dropped a career-high 38 points, Kouame put up a 20-20, and Ateneo won in a 99-81 rout. It was their second straight title and 10th overall in the UAAP.
Yet the atmosphere at Araneta Coliseum afterward carried none of the animosity that had marked the first game of the best-of-3 series.
Instead, the UP crowd focused its energies on celebrating the achievements of its players, who had reached the UAAP finals for the first time in 32 years. In particular, they cheered for graduating team captain Paul Desiderio, who became the face of the team and its heart and soul.
Even in the midst of their own celebrations, the Blue Eagles could not help but applaud the UP crowd that showed up to support their team and that refused to quiet down even as Ateneo steadily built an insurmountable lead.
"It was a great series," said Ravena, named finals MVP after averaging 29.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 2.5 steals over two games.
"People had a lot to say, ang daming content," he remarked. "But at the end of the day, it was a good match. I played with my teammates and friends from UP, and I'm just really proud of that entire team, coach Bo (Perasol) and, of course, the UP community for making history."
Matt Nieto, who torched UP for 27 points in Game 1, commended the UP fans as well.
"I gave them credit kasi grabe 'yung fans nila," said Nieto.
"Actually 'yung fans ang nagdala sa kanila, kasi 'yung wild, 'yung intense," he added. "And I want to give back to them for giving us a hard-fought series."
Nieto marveled at how the UP fans never stopped cheering during the game, even when it became exceedingly clear that the Fighting Maroons were about to lose.
"It's my first time experiencing the crowd of UP and sobrang saya mag-laro ng basketball kasi hindi lang one-sided 'yung game," he said.
His twin brother, Mike, added: "Wala akong masabi sa UP. 'Yung battle cry nila, 'yung laban nila."
As impressed as they were with the UP crowd, as well as their own army of supporters, the Blue Eagles also stressed that during the game itself, they were focused on the task at hand.
They refused to be distracted when more than 21,000 fans showed up at MoA Arena on Saturday, and they remained locked in when an even bigger crowd of 23,471 fans watched the second game at the Big Dome.
"Coming into the game, alam namin na maraming darating from both Ateneo and UP," said Ravena.
"Pero 'yung importante lang was for us to do our own jobs, individually and collectively," he added. "As a team, we can't let the crowd and the atmosphere get to us, because we have a goal."
"I just want to say that all my teammates, every single one did such a great job. I just want to thank everyone in the coaching staff," Ravena also said. "We just did it for the Ateneo community."
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