The basketball gods were in no mood for surprises Saturday afternoon, as a defensively stingy Ateneo and a relaxed University of Santo Tomas subdued separate foes in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament at Mall of Asia Arena.
Unnerved by a solid start from its archrival, Ateneo flashed a mean defensive game to dump La Salle, 71-55, and notch its fifth win in six games.
“We just focused on what we had to do and we did it well,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
And what the Eagles do particularly well is play defense.
Like it did to UST in a 32-point rout earlier in its schedule, Ateneo held La Salle to just 18 made field goals the entire game en route to putting pressure on undefeated leader Adamson (5-1).
“We had a strategy on playing defense and that was the big emphasis coming into this game,” added Arespacochaga.
The Ateneo defense forced a season-high 28 turnovers on La Salle, which made a measly three assists the entire game.
The Tigers, on the other hand, finally succeeded in trying to prove it was great at one thing the past five games: Shoot.
All those attempts from beyond the arc finally found their mark as UST made 16 triples in an 80-66 conquest of University of the East in the other match.
After bricking triple attempts in a three-game slide, the Tigers watched their run-and-gun style bear fruit for their second win in six outings. And all it took, apparently, was a break from basketball.
“In the two days before our game I told them that we’re going to have a break and forget about basketball,” said coach Aldin Ayo, who used the birthday celebration of one of the team’s managers, Chuck Dumlao, as an excuse to send the Tigers on a spa and buffet break.
“We played well and the kids played relaxed because they weren’t pressured that much,” said Ayo in Filipino.
In the first meeting this season of Philippine basketball’s marquee active rivalry, Ateneo weathered a strong start by its foe and outscored La Salle, 16-8, in the second quarter to take a 28-21 lead heading into the break.
That seven-point lead eventually ballooned in the third quarter when Tyler Tio scored on a three-pointer with seven seconds left in the period for the Blue Eagles’ 50-33 buffer.
Angelo Kouame put up 20 points, 13 rebounds, and five blocks for Ateneo while Anton Asistio added 12 points. Thirdy Ravena became Ateneo’s de facto playmaker with nine points and six assists.
Aljun Melecio carried La Salle’s offense with 21 points on 5-of-18 shooting. He also had seven rebounds.
UST had a 23-17 lead after the first quarter and pounded UE with a 16-6 run to take control of the game.
The Growling Tigers led by as many as 21 in the third quarter, 44-23, on Renzo Subido’s three-pointer.
The Warriors rallied to within seven but UST countered with an 11-1 run capped by a three from CJ Cansino.