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Wild Card

Just one more for Blue Eagles

It’s solid play—not sentiment—that wins a basketball championship in the UAAP.

Defending champion Ateneo stressed this Saturday as the Blue Eagles blasted the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, 88-79, and moved a win from clinching a second straight title in the last five years.

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Matt Nieto fired a career-high 27 points and Thirdy Ravena added 21 on top of 10 rebounds, 9 assists, two blocks and the same number of steals as the Eagles reasserted their mastery of the Maroons, who came into the opener of the best-of-three title series riding the crest of popularity and fame as the old whipping squad that finally became a Final Four wonder.

UP, the No. 3 semifinalist, did acquit itself well in its first title crack in 32 years after eliminating No. 2 Adamson with back-to-back wins in their semifinal duel. Ateneo, which easily ruled the eliminations had reached the finals by whipping Far Eastern, 80-61, in a Final Four duel where the Eagles didn’t allow a Tamaraw to score in double figures.

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This time, four Maroons led by Jun Manzo with 19 points, managed twin-digit scores as UP fought back from 12 points down early in the game to stay in the fight up to midway in the last quarter. Then Nieto and Ravena combined to lower the boom on UP with a 12-1 run for 87-73 with barely two minutes left.

The Eagles highlighted their third win over UP this season by holding Paul Desiderio, the Maroons’ ace gunner whose “Atin ito (This is ours)” vow during a critical moment of a previous match had become the team’s battlecry, to five points. Desiderio’s late scoring had doomed the Falcons twice in the semifinals.

And UP big man Bright Akhuetie did nothing to justify his impending coronation as the season MVP. He came back from a knee injury in the third quarter but could only help prune down the final score with three free throws of his 10-point output.

Ateneo, which rejoined the league in 1978, will try to clinch its 10th title this Wednesday even as UP tries to squeeze all the fight from the Maroons while hoping for a miracle to force a rubber match.

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