MANILA, Philippines — Ateneo systematically parried each of rival La Salle’s runs all game for a convincing, 77-67, triumph Saturday in the 75th UAAP men’s basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ryan Buenafe regained his fierce form and exploded for a career-best 24 points — highlighted by his classic hang time moves — and eight rebounds in the Blue Eagles’ eighth straight win.
Ateneo, gunning for five-straight championships and perhaps the last under head coach Norman Black, clinched a playoff for a final four berth.
“We really wanted to re-establish ourselves as the best defensive team in the league,” said Black.
Buenafe, who sat out the entire last season, hit his first 20-point game since chalking up 23 markers in game two of the 2010 finals against Far Eastern University.
“I was pumped up because I was ejected last game, so I really wanted to make up for it today,” said Buenafe in the post-game presser.
After going 1-of-18 beyond the arc, Buenafe suddenly became a threat by knocking down three treys.
“Coach told me to step up offensively, he gave me confidence so when I’m free, I shoot it,” said Buenafe.
A 13-4 run towards the end of the third quarter keyed in the Blue Eagles’ victory, as they were on point in halting the Green Archers’ dangerous comeback.
Top rookie Jeron Teng was made to work hard for each of his shots but still finished with a team-best 22 points, five rebounds and two assists.
Teng made it a two-point game, 42-44, with 4:23 left in the third quarter with his first triple of the game — but Ateneo quickly retaliated and rebuilt its double-digit lead.
Almond Vosotros stepped up for LA Revilla, finishing with 20 points on four-of-eight shooting from downtown — pouring most of it in the first half, where La Salle held Ateneo to just nine points in the second quarter.
The Archers dropped to 6-4, tied with National University at fourth place.