A big-time player again delivered in a big-time game.
Thirdy Ravena turned Game 1 of Season 82 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament best-of-three finals series into his own show as he powered Ateneo de Manila University to a 91-77 win over University of Santo Tomas last night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ravena, the Finals Most Valuable Player the past two seasons, was unstoppable as he towed the Blue Eagles to a strong start and a stronger finish to move a win away from a perfect season and third consecutive UAAP title.
The former Gilas Pilipinas member finished with a season-high 32 points on a sizzling 12-of-18 shooting from the field on top of five rebounds and three assists to show that he performs well when the stakes are high.
Angelo Kouame chipped in 18 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, while SJ Belangel tallied 12 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals laced with four three-point bombs for Ateneo, which detonated a scorching 20-4 start en route to their 15th consecutive victory despite coming off a 17-day layoff.
“Well, it’s good to get the win obviously. But we tend not to see this a win,” said Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, who has a chance to clinch his third straight title in Game 2 on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“I think that UST was so persistent. They keep on coming at us hard and we still have a lot to work on come Wednesday.”
The Blue Eagles displayed mastery on both ends of the floor, as they limited the Growling Tigers using their airtight defense and high-octane offense.
The 6-foot-2 Ravena drilled a hook shot in the 4:31 mark of the third quarter to hand Ateneo its biggest lead at 23, 66-43.
It was all Blue Eagles from there as they punished the Tigers, making them looked tired and weary from three do-or-die duels in the stepladder phase against Far Eastern University and University of the Philippines.
“Even though we have a comfortable lead, we can’t really say that it’s comfortable because UST was so fast and their transition was so fast,” said Ravena, who sat out the fourth period with Ateneo in complete control.
Mark Nonoy, who will be named Rookie of the Year prior the tip off of Game 2, was the lone man standing, finishing with a season-high 26 points with 9-of-18 from the field.
“Mark Nonoy was a problem for us and not for them,” said Baldwin, the prolific American-Kiwi mentor who coached New Zealand in the FIBA Word Championships in 2002.
“He got a lot of respect from the players.”
Transferee Brent Paraiso chipped in 14 points with three rebounds, while Most Valuable Player awardee Soulemane Chabi Yo had 13 points and 10 rebounds for UST, which failed to draw significant numbers from swingman Rhenz Abando.
Abando had a nightmarish finals stint with a forgettable three points.