Defending champion Ateneo got the wake-up call it needed, University of Santo Tomas found its deadly shooting touch in time and a shorthanded La Salle crew showed it can battle through adversity on Wednesday.
In a UAAP basketball season that seems to deliver an exciting twist with every game day, the only thing certain now is the Blue Eagles’ position as the top seeds in the Final Four after they rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half to subdue Far Eastern U, 65-55, at Mall of Asia Arena.
The Growling Tigers showed their poise and incredible shooting in a tight endgame to down University of the Philippines, 84-78, while the ailing Green Archers overcame University of the East, 65-59, to barge into the Top 4.
“The guys, they became who we believe we are in the second half after FEU gave us the wake-up call that we obviously needed,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, after the Eagles climbed out of a 13-point hole with a strong second half to secure their 11th straight victory.
Thirdy Ravena made a couple of key baskets and Ange Kouame scored on a putback with under a minute remaining to complete the comeback for the Eagles, who later sealed the No. 1 seed following UP’s loss to UST.
Ateneo, the only unbeaten team in the tournament, still has to win its last three games to claim an outright finals berth.
“I don’t care if we had 10 playing dates in a row when you lose your humility when you think all you have to do is put your uniform on to be good, you need a wake-up call,” Baldwin said.
The Tigers came out with all guns blazing in the first half, hitting 12-of-20 three pointers, before suddenly going cold in the third period, making just 1-of-10 shots.
That allowed the Maroons to claw their way back and even take the lead late on with Kobe Paras’ triple extending the advantage, 78-74, with 1:41 remaining.
But Renzo Subido buried two foul shots and Brent Paraiso knocked down a wide-open triple to give the lead back to UST, 79-78, with 52 ticks left. Subido sealed the deal with a cold-blooded triple over Juan Gomez de Liaño with time down to 26 seconds.
Justine Baltazar held the fort for the Green Archers with 23 points and 12 rebounds as the Archers moved up to fourth with a 5-5 record. .
“We’re lucky we were able to pull through,” said La Salle coach Gian Nazario, as seven of his players, including Baltazar, suffered from flu prior to the game. “We’re happy that we were able to pull this win out. We really needed this one.”