One mission down for the defending champions.
Needing one more win to gain a valuable Final Four slot, the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles did not let up against season-hosts National University Bulldogs, picking up a dominant 79-64 victory, Saturday afternoon at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.
Going up to a 9-2 record, the Blue Eagles – who are on a four-game winning streak – have secured fifth-straight Final Four berth, their third under Tab Baldwin.
However, going into the game, the Blue Eagles did not expect such a reward.
“We did not know that we are already in the Final Four. Our game plan was focusing on NU, not looking beyond this game,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
The Blue Eagles started the game on point on both ends, taking a 10-0 lead and never looking back. Ateneo would lead by as much as 24 points, 44-20, with 1:59 left in the first half.
Thirdy Ravena continued his string of outstanding outings, finishing with 23 points and 12 rebounds, while Angelo Kouame had another monster game with 19 points, 17 rebounds, and six blocks.
But just as Ateneo expected, NU came storming back in the third canto.
“That’s the key point we’ve been stressing, that NU is a dangerous team. We told the players during the break that NU will come back and that’s what happened. Good thing, we were able to stave off their rally,” said Arespacochaga.
Behind John Lloyd Clemente, NU were able to cut the deficit down to just 12 early in the third frame. But Kouame, SJ Belangel, and Ravena had answers to buck any comeback attempt.
Belangel stepped up for the Blue Eagles this time around, finishing with 11 points in 15 minutes with no turnovers.
The Nieto twins missed their fourth straight game.
Clemente led NU with 25 points, while Dave Ildefonso – who was limited to just four points in their first-round outing – chipped in 13 points on 16 attempts.
The same could not be said about the Bulldogs, as they dropped to a disappointing 3-7 record. NU are one loss away from elimination.
Ateneo will have an eight-day break before facing the Adamson University Soaring Falcons on Sunday, November 4. NU, on the other hand, look to keep their playoff hopes alive when they take on the UP Fighting Maroons on Saturday, November 3. Both games will take place at the Ynares Sports Center in Antipolo City.
ADMU 79 – Ravena 23, Kouame 19, Belangel 11, Verano 7, Go 7, Tio 3, Black 3, Mendoza 2, Mamuyac 2, Daves 2, Asistio 0, Wong 0, Navarro 0, Andrade 0
NU 64 – Clemente 25, Ildefonso D 13, Ildefonso S 7, Diputado 5, Yu 5, Gaye 4, Joson 3, Rike 2, Gallego 0, Sinclair 0, Galinato 0, Morido 0, Malonzo 0
Quarterscores: 22-11, 47-25, 65-47, 79-64
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