Ateneo trips UST in Game 1By Jasmine W. Payo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
ATENEO star Nico Salva couldn’t even quite remember what the halftime huddle was all about. Yet University of Santo Tomas sure got the message.
Salva erupted with a career-high 30 points yesterday as the Blue Eagles staged a furious second-half onslaught against the Tigers to hack out an 83-78 Game 1 triumph and move Ateneo within a win of a historic fifth straight UAAP men’s basketball crown.
The Blue Eagles dropped a 17-0 bomb at the start of the second half, then survived the Tigers’ desperate rally in the fourth quarter to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series that drew an electric crowd of 20,686 at Mall of Asia Arena.
Ateneo can wrap it up in Game 2 on Thursday and earn a spot in league history as the team with the second longest title reign after University of the East’s seven-year title romp starting in 1965.
“I just wanted to win and so I gave it my all,” said Salva. “I told myself before the game that I’ll do everything I can to win. It also helps that I have teammates like Ryan (Buenafe), Kiefer (Ravena) and Greg (Slaughter). They (the Tigers) weren’t only focused on me, so it opened the lane for me as well.”
Salva surpassed his previous career-high of 24, which he also set in Game 1 of last year’s Finals, and became only the third player the past decade to reach the 30-point mark in a championship game.
But Salva—who’s also on the brink of a rare feat of winning a championship in every season of his five-year varsity career—couldn’t quite remember what exactly got the Blue Eagles perfectly clicking.
“What did you tell us coach?,” Salva asked, turning to mentor Norman Black, after the Blue Eagles rose from as many as 11 points down, 25-36, in the first half.
“I guess he just told us to stick to our system and not be intimidated by [UST’s Cameroonian center Karim] Abdul. He told us not to change our shots and just go to the hoop.”
Salva was only the third player to score 30 in the Finals since Ateneo players LA Tenorio shot 30 in 2001 and Rabeh Al-Hussaini had 31 in 2008.
The 6-foot-4 Salva, though, was right to give credit to his teammates as Buenafe, Ravena and Juami Tiongson also unloaded clutch baskets in the final three minutes after the Tigers had rallied within a point, 71-70.
Buenafe knocked in all but two of his 10 points in the final quarter, including a four-point play that gave the Blue Eagles a 77-70 advantage.
“He has done it over and over,” Black said of Buenafe, the 2010 Finals MVP. “He’s a money player. He comes up big when the game is on the line.”
Ravena—who missed all of his five attempts from the field in the first half—also made up for his early struggles with 13 points, the last two on a jumper with 38.8 seconds left after Jeric Teng’s back-to-back triples pushed the Tigers within 81-78.
Juami Tiongson also came through with a pair of key shots inside the final two minutes before finishing with 12 markers.
UST coach Pido Jarencio, though, was so furious with the calls that he confronted the referees after the buzzer.
“Let the players decide, there were inconsistencies in the officiating,” said Jarencio, citing the questionable fouls on his key players.
Abdul was hampered by early foul trouble before leaving the game in the last 30 seconds with only nine points and six rebounds.
Teng paced the Tigers with 25 points, while Aljon Mariano had a double-double of 22 markers and 12 rebounds aside from dishing out five assists.
The Eagles kicked off the third period with a 17-0 run to take a 48-38 advantage after trailing, 31-38, at halftime.
In that pivotal stretch, the Tigers missed all their eight attempts from the field and even their two foul shots while Abdul picked up his fourth foul.
It was a complete turnaround from the first half where a sloppy Ateneo squad committed 10 turnovers and allowed the Tigers to set pace.
From a 15-10 lead, UST stormed ahead by 11 points behind Mariano and Teng.
The Tigers regained their firepower in the final quarter, opening with a 13-2 spurt that gave them the lead one last time, 64-63, with 6:57 minutes left.
After back-to-back baskets by Justin Chua and Salva put the Eagles back in front, 71-66, the defending champions preserved the lead the rest of the way.
ATENEO 83—Salva 30, Ravena 13, Tiongson 12, Buenafe 10, Chua 9, Slaughter 5, Gonzaga 2, Elorde 2, Sumalinog 0, Golla 0.
UST 78—Teng 25, Mariano 22, Ferrer 13, Abdul 9, Fortuna 4, Lo 3, Pe 2, Bautista 0.
Quarters: 18-24, 31-38, 61-51, 83-78