With Kouame showing the way, Blue Eagles force title decider vs Maroons | Inquirer Sports
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With Kouame showing the way, Blue Eagles force title decider vs Maroons

By: - Reporter / @junavINQ
/ 05:20 AM December 15, 2022

Ateneo's Ange Koaume leads Blue Eagles to Game 2 victory in the UAAP Season 85 men's basketball finals. –UAAP PHOTO

Ateneo’s Ange Koaume leads Blue Eagles to Game 2 victory in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball finals. –UAAP PHOTO

They came in droves, the supporters of University of the Philippines (UP), wearing their school’s deep crimson colors.

They left the arena all blue.

Ateneo, riding a strong performance in the middle quarters, carved out a 65-55 victory over the defending champions on Wednesday and forcing a deciding match for the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball crown.

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Ange Kouame spearheaded the Blue Eagles’ charge in Game 2 of the best-of-three series, finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

“We live to fight another day,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin. “Everybody saw what sports fighting is about tonight. That’s the kind of game we all sort of expect in the Finals.”

Kai Ballungay atoned for a scoreless performance in the series opener by puncturing holes in the UP defense down low, highlighted by a dunk over Zavier Lucero that energized the Blue Eagles.

But it was Ateneo’s defense that shone at the Big Dome.

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The Blue Eagles confounded their rivals with a stingy defense right in the first half, denying the Maroons quality shots. UP’s output in Game 2 was the lowest by the school since Goldwyn Monteverde took over the coaching chores.

Ateneo and UP duel for all the marbles on Monday, with the Maroons wary over the condition of star forward 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 ahead, 59-44.

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Tearful Lucero

Lucero, in tears while riding the bench, said later on that he felt and heard his knee crack.

“We expect there will be some adjustments, and it’s back to the drawing board. They’ll try to anticipate our adjustment, because we will make adjustments even though we won,’’ said Baldwin.

Kouame and Geo Chiu waltzed in the paint, beneficiaries of razor-sharp entry passes that pushed Ateneo ahead. Ballungay’s dunk set the tone for the Blue Eagles as they managed to hose down every attempt of the Maroons to mount a comeback.

A three-pointer by Kouame and Forthsky Padrigao’s drive pushed Ateneo ahead by 11 before Terrence Fortea drilled a triple of his own that kept the Maroons in the game.

But Kouame threw his weight around, with 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.

‘Blessing’

Earlier, Malick Diouf received his Most Valuable Player (MVP) Trophy as the best individual performer of the season.

The 6-foot-11 big man from Senegal filled up the stat sheet with averages of 10.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.5 steals in the elimination round.

“I just want to say thank you for this blessing,” Diouf said during awarding ceremonies held before Game 2’s tip-off. “Thank you to my teammates, but job is not yet done. I hope that in two or three hours, we will be celebrating in our school.”

Diouf and teammate Carl Tamayo booked spots in the Mythical Five, along with Ateneo’s Padrigao and Dave Ildefonso and University of the East’s Luis Villegas.

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Padrigao averaged 11.0 points, 5.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 steals to finish second in the MVP race while teammate Ildefonso managed 13 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. Villegas, a one-and done talent, led the Red Warriors’ resurgence with 13.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.9 steals, while Tamayo averaged 13.8 points and 7.7 rebounds.

TAGS: Blue Eagles, Men’s basketball, UAAP Season 85, University of the Philippines (UP)

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