THE defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles notched their first win in Season 81 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines after defeating the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, 87-79, in their “Battle of Katipunan” on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Lost in their season opener previously, the Eagles bounced back by taking on everything the Maroons threw at them, banking on balance and collective composure.
Earlier in the day, the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers booked their first win in the Aldin Ayo era by beating the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 76-74.
Ateneo-UP got to a competitive start, with the protagonists looking to establish the pace of the game.
Juan Gomez De Liano and Paul Desidero got the Maroons humming while Thirdy Ravena and Anton Asistio countering for the Eagles.
The score stood at 25-24, and Ateneo on top, after the first quarter.
The battle of attrition continued in the second period.
UP had itself jabbing but Ateneo was not to sway and instead fought back.
A triple late in the quarter by Asistio handed the Eagles a three-point cushion, 46-43, by the halftime break.
The Eagles got it going early in the third period, racing to a 53-43 lead in the opening three minutes.
Jun Manzo and Bright Akhuetie though towed the Maroons to a charge back, coming to within six points, 58-52, with 4:14 to go.
That was the closest they could get in the quarter however as Ateneo held steady and built a 67-58 advantage at the end of third.
UP scrambled to gain some lost ground to start the payoff quarter but could not get the leverage it wanted amid a tight hold from Ateneo.
Things turned for the worse for the Maroons after coach Bo Perasol was tossed from the game with 6:54 to go from a disqualification foul for entering the court in protest of a non-foul call.
But instead of further folding, the Maroons used it to make a run and come within five points, 75-70, with 5:33 remaining.
But Ravena and Asistio doused water on the UP rally, helping their team to an 83-74 lead with 3:12 left.
The Maroons made a last-ditch attempt to salvage the win but the Eagles would not allow them to as they went for the closeout the rest of the way.
Ravena led Ateneo (1-1) with 17 points, followed by Asistio with 14 and Angelo Kouame 14.
Gomez De Liano was the top man for UP (1-1) with 29 with Paul Desiderio adding 17 points
“It was a tough win. UP played well. But I’m happy with the way we responded after our loss last time around. But we still have room to improve,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin after the victory.
Meanwhile, a young UST team showed much poise and resilience to get the better of a veteran-laden FEU squad for its first win of the season and first under new coach Ayo.
The Tamaraws took early control of the match before the Tigers caught up with the swing of things and made it tight late in the opening canto.
The teams fought to a 17-15 count with FEU ahead after the first 10 minutes.
In the second quarter, UST would get a major boost from rookie Joshua Marcos.
Hitting from all cylinders, Marcos helped UST to a 25-21 lead with 5:45 left on the clock before they built on it after.
Wendell Comboy kept FEU in the game but the Tigers would move on to hold a 39-32 advantage by the halftime break.
Led by Richard Escoto and Hubert Cani the Tamaraws got off to a strong start in the third period.
They got to level the count at 44-all with four minutes lapsing and then engaged their opponents to a back-and-forth.
UST, however, hang tough and stayed in command, 56-52, entering the fourth quarter.
The Tamaraws opened the payoff quarter with an 8-0 blast in the first two minutes to seize control, 60-56.
Renzo Subido and Zach Huang though would lead the Tigers to a fightback, overtaking the Tamaraws, 61-60, in the next two minutes.
A slugfest ensued after as the two teams battled for control heading into the homestretch.
The score was at 72-71, with UST ahead, at the last two-minute mark.
Germy Mahinay gave the Tigers more air space, 74-71, when he scored inside with a minute and a half to go.
FEU tried to come close but could not connect on its attempts.
A basket by Ken Zamora with 18 seconds left made it a five-point lead, 76-72.
Cani, however, thrust the Tamaraws back with a triple with 10 seconds to go, 76-74.
They followed it up by forcing UST guard Marvin Lee into an error with seven seconds left to give themselves a chance to tie or take the win.
They went for the win but the three-point attempt by Arvin Tolentino as time expired failed to puncture, handing the victory to the Tigers.
Subido led UST (1-1) with 18 points with Lee adding 13 and Marcos 12 points.
FEU (1-1) was paced by Prince Orizu with 25 points and 15 rebounds while Cani had 15 points.
“We played well. This team is a young team, composed of nine rookies and we have only one senior. We’re happy with the win. The community deserves to win. The support of the UST community is tremendous. We are not going to be satisfied with this and we look forward to winning more games,” a teary-eyed Ayo said after their win.