Still good enough
Ateneo and University of the Philippines find themselves in a similar situation as they head into their first meeting in UAAP Season 82 on Sunday: far from their best, but armed with just enough weapons to stay ahead of the pack.
The Blue Eagles needed one stellar quarter to pummel University of the East, 85-68, and move within a win of a first-round sweep, while the Fighting Maroons showed the resiliency and grit that have marked their season in a gripping 72-71 win over La Salle on Wednesday night at Mall of Asia Arena.
The two teams’ tiff on Sunday will be their first meeting since Ateneo swept UP in the Finals last season for its second straight men’s basketball crown.
Bucking a sprained left ankle, Juan Gomez de Liaño made the Archers pay with a steal off Aljun Melecio’s outlet pass, before knocking down a triple with 7.8 seconds remaining as the Maroons completed another classic comeback, this time from 13 points down.
UP coach Bo Perasol couldn’t help but marvel at his team’s ability to rise above adversity in crunch time. He likened his team to a chariot leaning on wild stallions running in different directions.
“But come winning time, they just get their act together,” Perasol said.
UP’s endgame was far from perfect with reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie fouling out with 41 seconds remaining.
La Salle’s Jamie Malonzo, however, missed the two free throws off Akhuetie’s foul before the Archers were forced into a bad outlet pass stolen by De Liaño, who just minutes before was running up and down the tunnel to make sure his freshly taped left ankle was good to go.
“I feel like I’m good for these kind of moments,” said the former Rookie of the Year, who finished with 10 points.
“I’m really glad I made the right decision. I made the extra sacrifice to play last three minutes despite all the injuries I’m going through right now. I’m thankful that the team still trusts me even though I’ve been struggling.”
Kobe Paras finished with 21 points, including two crucial foul shots that cut the Archers’ lead, 69-71, while Akhuetie added 17 points and 14 boards for the Maroons, who now have won four straight and improved to 5-1.
Melecio hit a triple to give the Green Archers a 70-67 lead with 2:32 remaining, but that turned out to be their last field goal as the Maroons clamped down on defense.
“A lot has to improve on our offense, but I think we are decent on defense,” Perasol said.
Ateneo once again showed it was vulnerable after going on a slow start, but once the Eagles flipped the switch and turned up the intensity after halftime, the Warriors hardly had a chance.
Adrian Wong buried three triples and a runner in the third period to trigger the breakaway for the Eagles, who outscored the Warriors there, 35-15.
“The third quarter was the kind effort I wanna see in the team all the time,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, whose team extended their unbeaten start to six games.
“They played with some fire, some determination. The second you think you have nothing to prove, you should get out of sports because the very nature of competition is that you have something to prove to your opponent if nobody else.”
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