Just how great are the Ateneo Blue Eagles in UAAP Season 82? Great enough to have an “ordinary first-half” and still beat a team that had just rediscovered its fine form.
The Blue Eagles proved ruthless in the third period as they slipped past the Adamson Falcons, 80-74, on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum for their ninth straight win that kept them firmly entrenched on top of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
Thirdy Ravena turned in the best scoring output for an Ateneo player this season, finishing with 23 points, while Will Navarro delivered another solid all-around performance with 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocks as the Eagles remained unbeaten and inched closer to a Final Four spot.
On a day when a couple of winning streaks came to an end, the Eagles remained untouchable as they countered the Falcons’ best punches in the first two quarters and in a final period where they looked far from convincing.
“Adamson came in with real fire,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, whose team now has 19 straight wins in a run that dates back to the end of the first round of last season. Adamson slumped to its sixth defeat in nine games.
“I think first half, I think we were pretty ordinary. In the third quarter, we came out with some purpose. And then we really survived Adamson in the end of the game. They made all the right plays and we made several bonehead plays which you know, there’s no excuse for that.”
University of Santo Tomas came out with all guns blazing in dumping University of the East, 101-73, to end a two-game slide and seize solo third with a 5-4 card, while National University survived a poor finish in regulation to subdue Far Eastern U, 85-79, in overtime to keep its Final Four hopes alive.
The Growling Tigers nailed a season-high 14 triples, including six from Zach Huang, as they came up with the highest-scoring output of the season as well as the biggest winning margin by any team in the tournament.
UST coach Aldin Ayo admitted his team’s struggles in dealing with rising expectations after they started the season, winning four of their first six games. Playing a UE team they had already beaten, 95-82, in the first round, the Tigers pumped up the intensity, playing fast and loose to get back on the winning track.
“We were able to release the pressure,” Ayo said. “The players felt the pressure [after a strong start]. After winning the first two games and after the loss to Ateneo in the first round, the expectations were rising, which should not be the case because it was just the start of the tournament.
“I just told them to go back to having fun and enjoy the season and at the same time, be responsible.”
The result was an offensive juggernaut that the Warriors couldn’t even come close to handling as the Tigers had eight players scoring at least six points and led by as many as 34.
A strong start in the extra period behind John Lloyd Clemente and Dave Ildefonso gave the Bulldogs the cushion they needed to withstand a late fightback by the Tamaraws, who were denied of a third straight victory and dropped to 4-5.
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