Given the opportunity to exorcise the ghost of the loss to fierce rival La Salle, Nieto came through with the biggest plays of the game, including two foul shots with 3.1 seconds remaining that lifted the Blue Eagles to a thrilling 76-75 victory over the Green Archers before a crowd of 14,717 at Mall of Asia Arena.
“Everyday I kept thinking about that,” Nieto said of his missed free throw in Game 2 of the finals that hastened the Eagles’ loss to the Archers. “I promised myself it won’t happen again.”
Down 74-75 with 7.1 seconds remaining, Nieto forced the turnover on the inbound play for Andrei Caracut, before drawing the foul off Kib Montalbo that sent him to the line.
It wasn’t total redemption, but for Nieto, there was plenty of satisfaction knowing that his pressure-packed foul shots sealed the win, fashioned out desspite Ateneo not hitting a field goal in the last five minutes.
“I was just relaxed, just like in practice,” said the third-year guard, who finished with 16 points. “It’s still a long way to go for us (this season), but its just nice to beat La Salle.”
The Archers had one final stab at stealing the victory, but Ben Mbala and Montalbo bungled their attempts under duress as the Eagles completed a seven-game sweep of the first round while sending their rivals to their second loss in seven games for a tie of second with Adamson.
Earlier, National U sent University of the Philippines reeling to a third straight loss while enhancing its own Final Four bid with a 77-70 victory.
Matt Salem produced a breakout performance with 21 points as the Bulldogs notched their third win in seven games, tying their victims at fifth spot.
Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga quickly quashed talk that the Eagles have supplanted the Archers as the favorites this season.
“Its too early to talk about that,” said Arespacochaga. “It was an upset on our part. La Salle is still the favorite, I guess.”
Mbala, coming off a career-best 39 points against University of the East on Thursday, was held to just 18 this time as the Eagles clogged the lane and double teamed him at every opportunity.
First Game: NU 77 – UP 70
NU 77—Salem 21, Gaye 13, Alejandro 12, Joson 6, Diputado 5, Tibayan 4, Yu 3, Abatayo 3, Mosqueda 2, Morido 2, Aquino 2, Bartlett 2, Flores 2, Cauilan 0, Lastimosa 0, Rangel 0.
UP 70—Desiderio 15, Dario 11, Gomez de Liano Ja 10, Lim 7, Ouattara 6, Manzo 6, Lao 6, Prado 5, Gomez de Liano Ju 4, Vito 0, Ricafort 0.
Quarters: 18-21, 33-38, 56-53, 77-70
Second Game: ATENEO 76 – DLSU 75
ATENEO 76—Nieto Ma 16, Asistio 14, Mendoza 10, Ravena 9, Verano 6, Go 4, Tolentino 4, Nieto Mi 4, Black 4, Mamuyac 3, Ikeh 2.
DLSU 75—Rivero R 19, Mbala 18, Go 11, Rivero P 8, Caracut 5, Paraiso 5, Tratter 4, Montalbo 3, Santillian 2, Gonzales 0.
Quarters: 28-16, 43-36, 63-62, 76-75
Meralco back for unfinished business