Just two to go
There seems to be no stopping the Blue Eagles’ march to an elimination round sweep—and an outright finals berth—with the way they dismantled University of the East, 84-50, on Sunday at Ynares Center here.
That is unless the Fighting Maroons can play longer stretches of efficient and disciplined basketball like the way they finished off Adamson in a thrilling 81-77 win that saw them claw their way back from a 12-point hole in the fourth quarter and solidify their hold of second spot.
Ateneo is now 12-0, just two games away from a perfect elimination-round, which can only happen if the Eagles beat the Maroons (7-4) in their rematch on Oct. 30.
For now, the door remains open for five other teams as they scramble for a better seeding not just in a Final Four—but a possible stepladder format in the event of an Ateneo sweep where the No. 2 seed will be armed with a twice-to-beat edge.
Four straight wins will actually seal a third straight crown for the Eagles, but coach Tab Baldwin isn’t looking too far ahead.
“No, we’re just thinking about NU (National U),” said Baldwin, referring to the already-eliminated Bulldogs, whom they will face on Saturday.
“For any team in this position, things like undefeated seasons, sweeps, they happen because you take it one step at a time not because you make some grand statement about how good you are in front of a microphone.”
Isaac Go fired a season-high 13 points, while Ange Kouame and Thirdy Ravena contributed 11 each for Ateneo, which had the luxury of giving rookies Geo Chiu and Jason Credo minutes in the fourth quarter when the outcome was already settled.
Baldwin said he’d rather have his team do the talking on the court.
“Sport is about performance, not about bragging about performance,” said Baldwin. “So we’re very much focused on what our next performance is going to be. Hopefully when we step up against NU, we’ll be prepared for that game and they (Maroons) will be the center of our attention and we’ll take care of business.”
The loss sent University of the East crashing out of playoff contention after they lost their fourth straight game for a 3-9 card.
The Falcons are also teetering on the brink after falling to 4-7.
Just like their first round meeting last month, Adamson put UP on the ropes, before the Maroons unleashed a furious finish that left the Falcons reeling.
“Although this is a big win for us, we need to focus on the next game (against NU on Wednesday), because this win will all be for naught,” said UP coach Bo Perasol, who also has to face La Salle on Sunday before their duel with the Eagles.
Kobe Paras scattered 21 points, Jun Manzo finished with 17 points and Juan Gomez De Liaño posted a season-high 15 points for the Maroons, who once again dealt the Falcons another heartbreaking defeat. UP also beat Adamson, 83-82, in overtime in their first round meeting last month.
Manzo shone the brightest, scoring five points in the last 4:02, while Paras drained a triple to shatter a 76-all deadlock with 1:25 left.
Bright Akhuetie helped seal the victory, 81-76, with two foul shots time down to 1:08 remaining.
UP coach Bo Perasol paid tribute to Manzo for epitomizing the Maroons’ never-say-die spirit.
“When I saw Jun inside, I thought he was very tired,” said Perasol. “The face was a look of a very stressful person because he badly wanted to win. We wanted to honor him with a very good game.”
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