Matt Nieto was in the midst of a strong start in Game One of the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball Finals, Saturday evening. The third-year Atenean tallied nine points on 4-for-6 shooting in 13 minutes of game time in the first half.
However, a freak accident happened that resulted in a nasty cut.
With 36.6 seconds remaining in the first half and the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles up 43-36, Nieto went to help Kris Porter seal reigning Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala. As the 6-foot-8 Mbala went for a shot, his left elbow accidentally hit the 6-foot-1 Nieto just above the left eye, resulting in a cut.
“I was just anticipating for his spin. Siguro he’s just too tall, so sakto ‘yung elbow niya sa face ko,” the 19-year-old shared.
“I was really expecting the spin, and I really wanted to get the spin because I’m gonna sacrifice even my face, even my body just to get that possession on us.
“Even though I’m down, even though they did call the charging on me, I just wanted you to know that I’m gonna sacrifice everything, even my face for that possession, because that possession will win us the game,” he furthered.
Nieto was able to start the third frame thanks to Ateneo team doctor Raul Canlas. Though he was limited to just two points in the second half, his return could not be quantified, as it fired up the Blue Eagles and his brother Mike.
Recalling the play, Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga said that he thought that there should have been a charge called on Mbala instead of a blocking foul.
“Mahirap i-block ang mukha mo sa elbow. Ewan ko, ‘yung ang interpretation ng referee. Of course, from our vantage point, it’s hard because Matt was there and the elbow hit him, it’s hard. So from our vantage point, of course we’ll say it’s an offensive foul,” Arespacochaga said.
“Hindi naman hineadbutt ni Matt ‘yung ulo niya doon sa siko.
“But that’s the call of the ref, we’re upset with it but credit to Matt. He stood up, still played a good game. LIke what Mike said, medyo nagalit si kapatid so maybe that was a blessing in disguise for us,” added Arespacochaga.
And his sacrifice was worth it, as Ateneo were able to snatch Game One from the De La Salle University, 76-70.
“I don’t want to let the team down, ayoko mawala sa laro, so gusto ko agad bumalik the moment that happened, but they had to stop the blood,” said Nieto, a second generation Blue Eagle.
“Worth it naman because we got the win.”