By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE Ateneo Blue Eagles are now one win away from a rare sweep of the elimination round in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) after winning their 13th straight game in Season 80 with a 96-82 victory over a gutsy University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons in a key game yesterday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Faced a tough challenge from a Maroons crew fighting for its playoff lives, the Eagles needed to dig deep in the winning quarter to survive and win and take their shot at history in their final game this weekend.
Despite the loss, UP’s playoff hopes are still alive after the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws (6-7) missed their chance to advance outright to the semifinals following their 87-84 loss to the National University (NU) Bulldogs (5-8) in the first game earlier in the day.
Knowing the significance of their match, both the Maroons and Eagles came out with an aggressive mind-set right at the onset.
The two teams went back and forth and made runs and counter-runs.
UP, led by floor leader Paul Desiderio and Diego Dario, would have Ateneo’s number in the opening half.
The Maroons claimed a 23-22 edge at the end of the first quarter before extending it to a six-point separation, 48-42, by the halftime break.
Diliman-based UP jumpstarted things in the third frame with six quick points to stretch their lead to 12 points, 54-42, with eight minutes to go.
Led by Thirdy Ravena, the Eagles cut their deficit to four points, 54-50, in the next minute only for UP rookie Juan Gomez de Liano to answer back with back-to-back triples to give them more breathing space, 60-50.
The jostling continued thereafter with the two teams fighting to a 64-63 affair at the end of third with UP still ahead.
Ateneo then made its move in the fourth period as big man Isaac Go delivered big baskets one after another to give the Eagles a 79-68 lead in the first four minutes.
The Maroons fought back after, tying the score at 79-all with four minutes remaining.
Ateneo held an 87-82 lead with 1:54 to go on the clock.
The Maroons tried hard to spring back from it but the Eagles were not to relent and hung on for the win.
Matt Nieto led Ateneo with 19 points with Go and rookie Gian Mamuyac adding 13 each.
Gomez de Liano was the lead point man for UP with 21 while Desiderio finished with 16.
“UP showed a lot of heart. They had a great game plan. But the boys showed character especially in the second half and we’re happy to come out with the win,” said Ateneo deputy Sandy Arespacochaga postmatch.
Ateneo plays rivals and defending champions De La Salle Green Archers on Sunday for a shot at win no. 14 while UP faces NU.
BULLDOGS BITE TAMARAWS
In the first game, NU used a strong finish in the end to pull the rug from other FEU to thwart the latter’s chance to advance to the next round of the tournament outright.
With Arvin Tolentino and Ron Dennison sizzling, the Tamaraws raced to a 27-19 at the end of the first quarter.
The Bulldogs tried to keep in step with the season hosts but the latter kept finding ways to stay ahead on their way to establishing a 47-39 advantage by the halftime break.
NU would open the third canto with a 12-5 run to cut its deficit to just one point, 52-51, with a little over three minutes lapsing in the frame.
The Bulldogs eventually seized the lead, 60-59, after two made free throws by Chino Mosquedo at the 3:33 mark.
FEU though would survive the Bulldogs’ bite as Hubert Cani and Wendell Comboy drained big shots to close out the quarter and help the Tamaraws build a 72-64 lead in the end.
Regaining some momentum, FEU opened the final canto with a 7-0 run to extend its lead to 15 points, 79-64 early.
The Bulldogs, however, would charge back with Jayjay Alejandro and Issa Gaye anchoring.
NU reclaimed the lead, 82-81, with 4:51 remaining after Alejandro drained a triple.
The Bulldogs further stretched their lead to five points, 86-81, with three minutes remaining.
Dennison sliced it to two, 86-84, with a three-pointer at the last two-minute mark.
FEU had chances to tie or retake the lead but failed to complete them each time.
A split on the charity stripe by Enzo Joson gave NU an 87-84 lead with 13 ticks to go.
Tolentino moved to tie the contest thereafter but his three-point heave did not go in as the final buzzer sounded.
Gaye led NU with 24 points and 11 rebounds while Alejandro finished with 17 points, six rebounds and nine assists.
Joson had 13 markers.
FEU, meanwhile, was paced by Tolentino and Dennison with 21 points each.
“The players showed maturity in this game despite us falling behind big. It is something that I was hoping that they would show and hopefully it’s not yet late,” said NU coach Jamike Jarin after their win.
“The script for us today was to win. And we will continue to write our script in the next game,” he added, referring to UP which they will face on Saturday.
FEU takes on the third-running Adamson Falcons also on Saturday where a win pushes it inside the Final Four while a loss sends it to a playoff with either UP or NU.