Defending champion Ateneo de Manila University displayed its championship poise after holding off the late rally of University of Santo Tomas (UST), 71-70, and claimed the top spot of Season 82 University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament yesterday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Blue Eagles were tested by the pesky Growling Tigers, but their experience gave them a big lift to stay unbeaten after three games.
Team captain Thirdy Ravena led Ateneo with 17 points and 10 rebounds and handed UST its first loss of the tournament.
“We understood that the game was going to be a very, very tough one. I feel very fortunate that we won the game,” Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin said.
“That’s the kind of game that you can credit your team as much as you want. You can talk about character and toughness,” the two-time UAAP champion coach added.
In a game of scoring runs, Ateneo proved to be steadier down the stretch and made the right plays to stay perfect.
Two free throws by Sherwin Concepcion and a triple by Renzo Subido gave UST its last taste of the lead, 67-64, then Ravena and Angelo Kouame joined forces to give the Blue Eagles a 70-67 advantage.
Gian Mamuyac, who muffed two crucial free throws in the closing minutes, redeemed himself after bothering CJ Cansino’s potential-game tying triple that led to the split free throws of Matt Nieto, 71-67.
Subido nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer but was not enough to rescue the team of head coach Aldin Ayon.
“I thought Aldin (Ayo) did a great job rotating his players, systems-wise. They’re a handful to try and control their systems,” Baldwin said.
Kouame chipped in 11 points and 10 boards while Mamuyac contributed 10 markers.
Beninese Soulemane Chabi Yo led the Growling Tigers with 25 points and 13 rebounds while Subido and rookies Rhenz Abando and Mark Nonoy contributed nine points apiece.
“It all boiled down to the decision making down the stretch. The kids lacked some maturity on the final play especially that we didn’t have a dead ball situation in the crucial moments,” Ayo said
“We were not able to execute our game plan on those kinds of situations.”
In the second game, De La Salle University pulled off an 83-82 escape over National University for its first win in the tournament.
Big man Justin Baltazar paced the Green Archers with 23 markers while Fil-Am Jamie Malonzo had another double-double game for La Salle with 14 points and 11 boards.
“I would say that we really think that coach Jamike (Jarin) would throw out a different kind of defense but we were kind of prepared for that,” said Green Archers head coach Gian Nazario, whose team improved to 1-1.