Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin takes pride at the fact that he can pluck anyone from his team to come up with a big game in UAAP Season 82.
On Sunday, it was Adrian Wong who delivered the telling blows for the Blue Eagles as they completed an elimination-round sweep of fierce rival La Salle with a 77-69 win that also secured a Final Four berth for the two-time defending champions at Mall of Asia Arena.
Playing in the shadows of Thirdy Ravena and Ange Kouame for most of the season, Wong found his range early en route to a season-high 18 points, opening up the game for the rest of the Eagles who rolled to their 10th straight victory.
“I think if Adrian doesn’t come out hot, we’re in trouble in the first half,” said Baldwin of Wong, who was held to just a single point in the win over Adamson last Wednesday.
“But fortunately, he did. And I think it’s another example of, you know, somebody else on our roster stepping up and, you know, having a good game when it was needed.”
The Archers led by four points, 13-9, in the first period, before Wong got going, hitting a couple of three-pointers that turned the tide for the Eagles, who went on to lead by as many as 13 points.
“That’s the beauty of our team. In any game, any player can step up,” said Ateneo captain Mike Nieto, who had five points. “That’s what we worked on the whole off-season.”
Baldwin still gave plenty of credit to the Archers for their effort and toughness.
The Archers showed up with a more ferocious stand compared to their first round meeting as the trio of Encho Serrano, Andrei Caracut and Aljun Melecio kept them in the game, before Wong once again came to the fore in the final period with seven of his total output.
“We gave up 39 points in the second half,” said Baldwin.
“We can’t do that, especially in big games, especially in critical situations. So there, you know, as I said earlier, this is the second time teams see us, this is the second time they feel the defensive schemes that we’re using.”
Later, Far Eastern U needed a breakout performance from rookie Royce Alforque and a late explosion from Brandrey Bienes to whip University of Santo Tomas, 72-58, that paved the way for a two-way tie at third spot.
A flurry of triples, including three straight from Bienes, allowed the Tamaraws to pull away from a tight contest late on and claim a share of third spot with the Growling Tigers, who also own a 5-5 record.
That win by the Tamaraws also gave Ateneo a twice-to-beat bonus in the Final Four.
Wendell Comboy and Alforque also hit a triple each in the blistering finish by the Tamaraws, who saw their lead trimmed, 51-53, on a Mark Nonoy trey with 6:34 remaining.
Bienes actually scored all of his points in the late FEU surge that also saw LJ Gonzales hit a mid-range jumper to keep the Tigers at bay with 2:35 remaining.
Staking his claim as the Tamaraws’ go-to-guy, Gonzales finished with 17 points, while Alforque added 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
Coming off a 79-85 overtime loss to National U last Wednesday, the Tamaraws came out with a sense of urgency, controlling the game right from the get-go with their defense.
“I’m just trying to understand my team more,” said FEU coach Olsen Racela, whose team faces Ateneo next on Wednesday
“We’ve proven that we can compete against the top teams, but we’re just hoping to do that in a consistent basis. We may commit mistakes and miss shots but I always tell my players to just focus on the next play. I’m glad we came out with this performance after that loss to NU.”
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