Ateneo de Manila University booked a 66-61 victory over Adamson University to secure No. 1 seed in the Final Four of Season 85 University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Kai Ballungay and Ange Kouame displayed their nerves of steel down the stretch for the Blue Eagles, who claimed the top spot in the semifinals for the fifth consecutive season.
Reigning champion University of the Philippines also finished with an 11-3 mark but will settle for the second seed as well as a twice-to-beat edge while National University will claim the third spot after wrapping up its double-round elimination campaign with a 9-5 record.
With the loss, Adamson’s road to the Final Four got a little complicated as it has to face De La Salle University in a sudden-death playoff on Sunday after closing their respective campaigns knotted at the fourth spot with a 7-7 record.
The Green Archers posted a 77-72 win over also-ran University of Santo Tomas, sending them to the all-important battle oozing with confidence.
Ballungay fired a double-double performance of 18 points and 14 rebounds while BJ Andrade chipped in 13 markers for Ateneo, who vowed to be at its best when it faces either the Green Archers or the Falcons in the post-season.
“It’s the Final Four already and we can’t get too caught up in being No. 1. We’re gonna make sure we won’t let our guard down against Adamson or La Salle,” Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga said.
“It’s good we are composed but for sure, coach Tab is not too happy we let go of the lead. We don’t want that letdown.”
Meanwhile, Evan Nelle nailed both his charities in the final 5.5 seconds to overhaul a 70-69 deficit into a 77-70 lead for the Archers, who played without Gilas Pilipinas mainstay Kevin Quiambao and Mike Phillips.
La Salle coach Derrick Pumaren said winning over the Growling Tigers – a team with nothing to lose and everything to gain – will be the key to their mission of making it back to the Final Four.
“As I was telling the boys, we have to win first before we talk about the second game. What’s important is we take care of business and then we talk about the second game,” Pumaren said.
“I’m really proud of how they played and they have been playing inspired basketball. We never made any excuses so we got to keep fighting and good things will happen for us.”
Nelle, a transferee from San Beda University, knocked down 25 points, four rebounds, four assists and a steal while Raven Cortez dropped 13 markers and four rebounds to underscore the impressive production from the La Salle bench players.
Royce Mantua fired 17 points and five rebounds for the Tigers, who are facing a long off-season after finishing their campaign with a 1-13 mark.
LA SALLE (77) – Nelle 25, Cortez 13, Nonoy 10, B. Phillips 8, Macalalag 6, Austria 5, Estacio 3, Buensalida 2, Abadam 2, Manuel 2, Nwankwo 1, Winston 0.
UST (72) – Mantua 17, Cabañero 16, Calimag 10, Faye 9, Pangilinan 5, Manalang 4 Laure 4, Manaytay 4, Lazarte 3, Duremdes 0, Escubido 0, Garing 0.
QUARTERS: 21-27, 27-32, 45-49, 77-72.
ATENEO (66) – Ballungay 18, Andrade 13, Kouame 12, Koon 7, Padrigao 6, Ildefonso 3, Gomez 3Lazaro 2, Chiu 2, Quitevis 0, Daves 0, Garcia 0.
ADAMSON (61) – Manlapaz 22, Lastimosa 10, Douanga 7, Flowers 5, Hanapi 5, Yerro 4, Manzano 4, Sabandal 2, V. Magbuhos 2, Colonia 0, Jaymalin 0, Barcelona 0, Barasi 0, Fuentebella 0, W. Magbuhos 0, Torres 0.
QUARTERS: 17-16, 33-27, 49-41, 66-61
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