Using another late uprising, Ateneo stayed in the hunt for an elimination round season sweep and an outright finals berth on Wednesday, while National U grabbed a lifeline in its playoff push in UAAP Season 80 at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Blue Eagles rallied past University of the Philippines, 96-82, on the day when the Bulldogs saved their season with a stunning come-from-behind 87-84 victory over Far Eastern U.
JJay Alejandro accounted for half of the points in a 22-2 run that erased a 15-point deficit for the Bulldogs, who survived the Tamaraws’ torrid outside shooting for only their fifth win of the season.
“This is the dream,” said an emotional NU coach Jamike Jarin. “This is what I was expecting from our players. I hope it’s not too late, I hope it’s not too late. We never bowed down. I’m happy right now because I saw the maturity from the players.”
The loss was a huge blow for the Tamaraws, who nailed a league record 18 three-point shots.
Later in the day, Matt Nieto fired 19 points, while Isaac Go hit 13 points, including a pair of triples in the final period, as the Eagles completed a 26-point turnaround in the second half for their 13th straight victory.
The Eagles’ focus now shifts to their highly anticipated duel with La Salle, which is hoping to deny Ateneo an automatic finals spot when they collide in the final playdate of the elimination round on Sunday.
“It was like a playoff, a Final Four game already, so I think we will expect that also [going] into our next game,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
“There was certainly a lot of fight in UP in this game, they showed their heart, they came up with a lot of intensity from the very start. But toward the end of the third and the fourth quarter, our players showed a lot of character.”
Playing with urgency after their Final Four hopes got a boost with FEU’s loss, the Maroons had the Eagles on the ropes for three quarters with their hot shooting, before Nieto and Go found their groove, combining for 14 points in the final frame.
Hitting eight of their first 16 shots from beyond the arc, the Maroons seemed poised for an upset and even led by 12 in the third period, before the Eagles clawed their way back into the contest.
With the Tamaraws falling to the Bulldogs in the first game, the last Final Four berth remained up for grabs with FEU, NU and UP all in contention as they play their last elimination round games on Saturday.
Unable to sustain their hot start, the Tamaraws dropped to 6-7, while NU improved to 5-8 to tie UP.