Matt Nieto’s late game heroics push Blue Eagles over La Salle
MATT NIETO stole the ball, drew a foul, and sank two free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining to lift the Ateneo Blue Eagles over archrivals De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers, 76-75, to cap the first round of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Men’s Basketball tournament on Sunday, October 8 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
With the win, Ateneo keeps their record clean at 7-0 to sit in solo first place after the first round of play. On the other hand, the Green Archers fall to a tie for second with Adamson University (AdU) at 5-2.
Aside from hitting the game-clinching charities, Matt Nieto led the Blue Eagles with 16 points including three triples, four rebounds, and two steals. Anton Asistio had a strong first half and finished with 14 points including four three-pointers. Jolo Mendoza also provided a spark off the bench with 10 markers.
La Salle was led by Ricci Rivero, who had 19 points on an efficient 9 of 11 shooting. He also added four rebounds, three assists, and three steals off the bench in an impressive performance that helped offset the absence of starting point guard Aljun Melecio. Ben Mbala, who was averaging 33.5 points prior to this contest, scored 18 points and grabbed 13 boards in the DLSU loss.
The Blue Eagles erupted to an early eight-point lead in the opening five minutes, with Asistio's trio of triples leading the way. The lead then extended to double digits from Matt Nieto's pair of triples and his brother Mike's fast break bucket. Mendoza capped the hot shooting quarter with a triple at the top of the key, to give the Blue Eagles a 12-point lead (28-16) by the first quarter buzzer.
The following period began with the two rivals trading baskets. An inside shot by Prince Rivero cut the lead back to single digits, but the Blue Eagles responded with a 7-2 run, highlighted by Asistio's fourth triple, to extend the lead to 13 (41-28). The Green Archers closed the quarter on an 8-2 run, however, to keep the deficit within bay (43-36).
The pace of the game bogged down at the beginning of the third period. Ateneo regained their double-digit lead with three minutes remaining, after Gian Mamuyac found Mendoza for a triple that gave Ateneo an 11-point lead (59-48). DLSU chopped it down to six after Ricci Rivero's acrobatic layup (59-53). La Salle ended the quarter with a quick 5-0 run, highlighted by a huge Mbala follow-up jam, that had the Blue Eagles clinging to a one-point lead (63-62) heading into the fourth.
The final period began with both teams going back and forth at a breakneck pace. DLSU tied the game midway through the period with a free throw by Brent Paraiso, but Asistio responded with a reverse layup to regain the lead (71-69).
The last five minutes of the match were filled with numerous lead changes as the intensity picked up. Abu Tratter's putback gave his team their first lead of the match since the opening minutes, though a pair of charities by Chibueze Ikeh and a free throw by Matt Nieto put Ateneo back up by one. Mbala answered with a pair of charities with under a minute remaining to give DLSU a one-point advantage (74-75).
With under 10 seconds left, Ravena forced a drive but was blocked, resulting in the Green Archers gaining possession and calling a timeout. In the ensuing play, however, Matt Nieto intercepted the inbound pass and drew a foul at the other end. The Blue Eagle drained the two clutch free throws, giving Ateneo a one-point advantage (76-75). Mbala's attempt and Kib Montalbo’s follow-up both came to no avail in the final possession to seal the win and the first-round sweep for the Blue and White.
After the match, Assistant Coach Sandy Arespacochaga said that despite the victory, he still considers Ateneo as underdogs. “If you watch the game, it was an upset on our part,” he said. “La Salle is still the favorite.”
The Ateneo Blue Eagles have a chance to push their undefeated run into the second round when they face the Adamson University Soaring Falcons on Saturday, October 14 at 4:00 PM at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
Ateneo-DLSU: 28-16, 43-36, 63-62, 76-75
Ateneo (76): Ma. Nieto - 16, Asistio - 14, Mendoza - 10, Ravena - 9, Verano - 6, Go - 4, Tolentino - 4, Mi. Nieto - 4, Black - 4, Mamuyac - 3, Ikeh - 2
DLSU (75): Ri. Rivero - 19, Mbala - 18, Go - 11, Pr. Rivero - 8, Caracut - 5, Paraiso - 5, Tratter - 4, Montalbo - 3, Santillian - 2