THE BLUE Eagles, leading the competition with a 7-1 win-loss record, closed in on a final four berth as they began the second round with a win against the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws in the 71st Season of the University Athletics Association of the Philippines.
Ateneo 78, FEU 74
The Blue Eagles repulsed the FEU Tamaraws, 78-74, last August 9 at the Philsports Arena.
Thanks to the shooting of Eric Salamat (III AB IS), who scored 18 points, 12 of them from long range, the Blue Eagles withstood a furious rally by the Tamaraws in the final minutes.
Ateneo had already pulled away with a 67-52 lead early in the fourth. The Tamaraws, however, countered with a 22-9 run that silenced the Ateneo faithful. Rabeh Al-Hussaini (IV AB IS) made his presence felt all night with 16 markers, including an undergoal stab to settle the final score with over a minute remaining.
Tamaraw Aldrech Ramos came up short on the free throw line, allowing the Eagles to escape with a much-needed victory.
It was a different story early on, as the Tamaraws looked to reprise their upset over the Eagles, leading at 25-17, before the Hail Mary Squad stormed back to take the lead at the half, 36-33.
The Eagles were clinging on to a precarious 54-51 lead as the third quarter drew to a close, but Salamat bombed a three at the buzzer, igniting a 13-1 run that nearly blew the game wide open in the final quarter.
“Sobrang pinaghandaan namin kasi second round na. Suwerte rin yung tira ko ngayon. Gulat ako kasi walang bantay yung ibang tres ko (We were preparing ourselves for this game because it’s already the second round. I’m lucky that my threes were going in. I was pretty surprised that some were even uncontested),” Salamat said.
Chris Tiu (V BSM AMF) and Ryan Buenafe (I AB IS) balanced the attack with 16 and 10 points, respectively.
Ateneo 64, UST 57
The Ateneo Blue Eagles counted on their defense to oust the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers, 64-57, at the Araneta Coliseum last August 3.
The Katipunan-based cagers played with a heightened sense of aggressiveness and hustle as they seized control of the game right from the opening tip with their fearless drives and fast break points. Al-Hussaini showcased a breakaway dunk to set the count, 33-25 in the third quarter.
However, Ateneo almost fell short as the outside shooting of the Tigers enabled them to snatch the lead, 54-51, in the early part of the fourth quarter.
The Loyola cagers would not be denied the win, however, as they went on a 13-0 run in the last five minutes of the ball game, capped by a Jai Reyes (IV BS CTM) trey with 28.4 seconds remaining.
“I was just one of the options, the play was originally designed for Chris [Tiu] but he found me open and I’m really happy that the shot went in. I’ve adjusted to being the one organizing the team, but it was good that my scoring came today as well,” Reyes said.
In the end, defense sealed the win for the Ateneo as UST’s last ditch efforts anchored on shooter Khasim Mirza and center Jervy Cruz were denied by the Blue Eagles’ tight defense highlighted by resounding blocks from forward Nonoy Baclao (III AB IS).
Aside from their defense, the Blue Eagles showcased better teamwork and balanced scoring, ending the game with 14 assists and with four Eagles scoring in double-digits. Al-Hussaini led the way with 17 points while Tiu, Buenafe, and Reyes added 14, 12, and 10, respectively.
FEU 72, Ateneo 66
The feast day of St. Ignatius proved a little less festive as the Blue Eagles fell to the FEU Tamaraws, 72-66, at the Araneta Coliseum last July 31.
Despite Al-Hussaini’s 33 points and 20 rebounds, the rest of the team failed to provide ample support. The Eagles squandered a ten-point lead to the motivated Tams who were driven by the recent shooting of Mac Baracael.
Ateneo relied on their inside game to spearhead their offensive drive, exemplified by Al-Hussaini’s scoring half the team’s output. However, FEU never let the game out of reach as they continued shooting from long distance.
The lead did not hold up in the end as the Tamaraws finally snatched a 67-66 lead with less than two minutes remaining.
With Al-Hussaini checked by the FEU defense in the final minutes, the Blue Eagles turned to Captain Chris Tiu (V BSM AMF) who missed a fade away shot for the tie. The final buzzer brought celebrations from the Tamaraw bench, the only team to defeat Ateneo in the first round of action.
Ateneo 74, NU 62
The Blue Eagles snatched their fifth straight win of the season from the National University (NU) Bulldogs on July 27 at the Philsports Arena, 74-62.
The Katipunan-based squad began the match on a sluggish note. It took Nico Salva (I AB IS) and Reyes to redeem the team with 10 points collectively, giving the lead back to Ateneo as the halftime scores closed in at 44-35.
Bulldog Jesse Garcia provided friction to the game by nailing two consecutive triples in the third quarter, cutting down Ateneo’s lead to as low as four points. Baclao (III AB IS), however, came to the Eagles’ rescue and scored six points to further stretch their lead.
The NU rally continued until the fourth quarter while the Blue and White were having difficulty scoring due to the Bulldogs’ tight defense. Also, Ateneo was hounded by foul trouble on their big men. But with only a few minutes left in the game, Kirk Long (II AB IS) delivered a three-point buzzer-beater that turned the momentum towards the Blue Eagles’ favor.
The combined efforts of team captain Tiu and Al-Hussaini late in the fourth quarter made for a 12-point lead that sealed the team’s win.
Tiu was the Eagles’ main man as he notched 17 points, followed by Baclao and Salamat, who contributed 16 and 12 points, respectively.