Ateneo shuts down UP to force winner-take-all Game 3 for UAAP crown
MANILA, Philippines–Fans clad in deep crimson came in droves and swarmed a vast expanse of the Smart Araneta Coliseum, expecting a coronation for the UP Fighting Maroons.
They all went home disappointed.
The Ateneo Blue Eagles lived to see another day in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball Finals and stretched the championship series to the limit with a deliberate 65-55 victory over the Maroons on Wednesday night.
Ateneo again forged a no-tomorrow showdown on Monday, reminiscent of their classic Game 3 encounter won by UP last season.
Ange Kouame was an immovable force inside, powering his way to 19 points and 11 rebounds on top of three steals and three blocks for the Blue Eagles, who prevented a sweep and a probable historic victory by their finals’ nemesis.
“We lived to fight another day. Both of these teams, our monickers are something about fighting. Everybody saw what sports fighting is about tonight,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin.
“That’s the kind of game that we all sort of expect in the Finals.”
Kai Ballungay atoned for a scoreless performance in the series opener by puncturing holes in the paint with 15 points, but overall credit goes to Ateneo’s stifling defense.
It was the lowest scoring output by the Maroons under coach Goldwyn Monteverde.
Compounding matters for the Maroons was the injury of Zavier Lucero, who went down on his left knee early in the fourth on the way to the hoop and was eventually carried off the court with Ateneo way up front, 59-44.
Lucero, in tears while riding the bench, said later on that he felt and heard his knee crack.
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The Blue Eagles confounded their rivals with a stingy defense right in the first half, denying the Maroons from getting away with some quality shots while waltzing efficiently around the rim on several occasions.
Kouame and Geo Chiu were the lucky recipients of those razor-sharp entry passes that pushed Ateneo ahead, but it was the one-handed dunk of a cutting Ballungay over Zavier Lucero that really energized them.
It set the tone for the Blue Eagles to seize control, effectively putting out the fire every time the Maroons mounted a comeback and pouncing every opportunity on the floor.
Kouame’s rare three and Forthsky Padrigao’s drive that netted foul pushed Ateneo ahead by 11 before Terrence Fortea drilled a triple of his own that somehow calmed the nerves of the Maroons.
But Kouame became so active inside, the 6-foot-10 center making the Blue Eagles look good with a dunk and a putback off a broken play, increasing their lead back to double digits.
ATENEO 65 — Kouame 19, Ballungay 15, Padrigao 11, Daves 6, Chiu 6, Ildefonso 3, Gomez 2, Lazaro 2, Koon 1, Quitevis 0, Andrade 0.
UP 55 — Tamayo 15, Cagulangan 11, Fortea 9, Lucero 6, Alarcon 5, Abadiano 4, Diouf 2, Galinato 2, Spencer 1, Gonzales 0, Calimag 0, Lina 0.
Quarters: 20-19, 41-33, 57-44, 65-55.