The University of the East Red Warriors need a miracle to stay in the Final Four race.
Knowing they only had a glimmer of hope to get into the top four, senior Chris Javier and the Red Warriors worked hard to control what they could to cool off the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles, 74-66, Saturday afternoon at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The first quarter was sloppy as both teams’ offense were stagnant and turnover-prone. UE’s only bright spot during the opening minutes was Emil Palma, who was able to score half of the eight UE points for an 8-3 lead. The Recto-based cagers were able to extend the lead to 16-9 with 3:23 left in the opening quarter. With the starters lacking energy, Ateneo’s second unit of Chibueze Ikeh, Aaron Black, and Mike Nieto added spark to the Blue Eagles in a 12-0 rally to gain a 21-16 lead to close out the first quarter.
Lanky wing RR De Leon sparked a 6-0 UE run to start the second stanza, capped by a long two to give UE a 22-21 lead. Moreover, the Red Warriors’ pressure defense forced their opponents to shoot contested shots and turnovers that held Ateneo scoreless in the first 4:01 of the quarter. After a Gwayne Capacio layup and an Adrian Wong triple that gave Ateneo a momentary lead, De Leon was able to halt the rally with a jumper. Back-to-back conversions by rookie Fran Yu gave UE a five-point lead, 31-26. Turnovers then plagued the Katipunan cagers in the final 4:03 of the quarter, giving UE a 35-26 lead to enter the break.
After mixing and matching combinations in the first half, Coach Bo Perasol left it to his seniors to lead the Ateneo comeback in the third canto. With the UE lead growing to a game-high 14 points, 43-29, with 7:31 left in the quarter, Ravena power-dribbled his way to the paint to start an 8-2 rally to cut the UE lead to eight. A triple by foul-plagued Paul Varilla momentarily halted the rally, but sharpshooting Von Pessumal responded with a jumper and free throws. Four more Ravena free throws and a rainbow by Pessumal eventually cut the UE lead to just two, 48-46. The Blue Eagles then closed the third quarter strong with a sneaky inbound play by Aaron Black to find Capacio, entering the final frame down by just two points, 53-51.
The Blue Eagles took the lead 54-53 to open the final quarter with an and-one conversion by Pessumal. A split by Black and a fast break layup by Ravena then extended the lead to four with 7:47 remaining. Just as Ateneo was about to breakaway, UE intensified their defense in a 10-3 rally, with Javier scoring seven during that spurt. With Ateneo continuing to struggle from the field, and with UE still up by five with 45.2 ticks remaining, Ravena took charge but his team could not make the stops. Free throws by Derige and Bonbon Batiller staved off Ravena’s nine-point blitz in the last 1:16 seconds to keep their team afloat in the Final Four race, 74-69.
“We’re fighting for our survival,” UE head coach Derick Pumaren declared after the game. “Even if we have a small chance, we still need to finish strong.” He then commended the team’s end-game composure that was lacking in their loss against the Adamson Soaring Falcons.
Senior Chris Javier, who had a splended outing in his penultimate regular season game with 13 points on a 6/11 clip, said that “ready lang talaga kami maglaro.” This was the same sentiment shared by sophomore Clark Derige, who tallied 17 markers on 50% shooting from the field and 75% shooting from the stripe, added that “huwag lang kami matakor [sa Ateneo]. Dapat laruin lang namin ang laro namin.”
Pumaren then closed in saying the team does not think about whether they get in the playoffs or not. “We just have to go all-out in our final game.”
For the Blue Eagles, Ravena had another outstanding personal outing, scoring a game-high 28 points. He was 9/18 from the field and 8/10 from the foul line. He was able to grab four boards and dish out four assists as well. Von Pessumal added ten markers but was just 3/11 from the field.
As a team, UE shot a tad better from the field, with 41.79% compared to just 40.63% by the Blue and White. The UE pressure defense proved to be the ultimate difference as they forced Ateneo to 25 turnovers that led to 24 points.
The UE Red Warriors (5-8) will play their final game of the regular season against the UP Fighting Maroons on Wednesday, November 18 at 2:00pm. On the other hand, the Ateneo Blue Eagles will finish their regular season campaign with a 9-5 record, good for third seed, and will await who the second seed of the tournament will be.
UE (74) – Derige 17, Javier 13, De Leon 10, Batiller 9, Yu 8, P. Varilla 7, Palma 6, Charcos 4, Cudal 0, Sta. Ana 0, J. Varilla 0.
ADMU (69) – Ravena 28, Pessumal 10, Black 8, Wong 5, Capacio 4, Ikeh 4, Mi. Nieto 4, Babilonia 2, A. Tolentino 2, V. Tolentino 2, Cani 0, Gotladera 0, Pingoy 0, Go 0.
Quarterscores: 16-21, 35-26, 53-51, 74-69.