Just one more win.
That’s precisely what separates Ateneo from extending its dynasty in UAAP men’s basketball.
Banking on a torrid third quarter onslaught coupled with clutch plays in the crunch, the Blue Eagles moved within the threshold of completing a ‘five-peat’ by holding off pesky University of Santo Tomas 83-78 Saturday for the Season 75 cage crown in front of a mammoth Saturday crowd at the MOA Arena.
Emphatically proving he’s a big-time player, sweet-shooting Nico Salva waxed hot all game long with 30 points for Ateneo but it was the clutch plays of teammates Ryan Buenafe and Juami Tiongson that enabled the Blue Eagles to fend off the Growling Tigers while moving within a way from bagging their fifth straight crown and eighth title overall.
“In the first half, we have good looks at the basket but we didn’t shoot with confidence. In the second half, we just tried to pound the ball inside. It really worked into our favor of going and trying to work at the post, both inside and out,” stated Black, whose wards completely turned the game around with a 30-point explosion in the third period.
“I talked to my players at halftime to be aggressive. They’re (UST) not really a shotblocking team so we should be very aggressive going to the basket and not settle for perimeter shots.”
Playing in his fifth and final year, Salva also became the fourth player this season to hit the 30-point plateau, joining reigning MVP Ray Ray Parks of National U, prolific La Salle rookie Jeron Teng and Jericho Cruz of Adamson.
“I just wanna win,” stated Salva, the reigning Finals MVP who went an effective 14-of-23 from the field. “I just gave it my all. I’ll do everything I can for us to win.”
It was also the third 30-point outing in the finals since 2002, with Salva moving alongside former Blue Eagles LA Tenorio (2001) and Rabeh Al-Hussaini (2008).
Bidding to give coach Norman Black a perfect send-off and also a fitting present for chief patron Manny V. Pangilinan, Ateneo has a chance to close out the series on Thursday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“It should be another good game. I expect them to come back. We’ll just prepare. Do better than what we played today. We have to come out better in starting Game 2,” added Black, who is set to bring his coaching skills to the pro league with Talk ‘N Text.
Kiefer Ravena added 13 points, seven boards and five assists while Buenafe and Tiongson fired 10 of their combined 22 points in the fourth to help the Blue Eagles’ cause before a big 20, 686 cheering fans.
“He’s (Tiongson) been doing that all this year. He’s coming up with big plays and big shots,” said Black, before adding: “He’s (Buenafe) done it over and over again.
He’s a money player. He’s just been a big-time player since high school.”
Jeric Teng finished with 25 points while Aljon Mariano added 22, with the two combining for 21 markers in the fourth, yet the Growling Tigers fell short.
Cameroon import Karim Abdul struggled with nine points and six boards before fouling out with 30.6 seconds to play.
Early on, it appeared UST would steal Game 1.After a Slaughter hook knotted an 18-all count, the Tigers uncorked six straight points to post a 24-18 lead. With the Blue Eagles uncharacteristically playing sloppy, the Tigers gamely pounced on, dropping a 12-7 run that padded their cushion at 36-25.
Then the tide suddenly turned into the Ateneo’s favor.
Trailing 31-38 after the break, the Blue Eagles asserted their full might with a back-breaking 17-to-nothing run to seize a 10-point advantage 48-38 before taking a 61-51 cushion into the fourth.
Just when Ateneo seemed headed for an easy victory, UST, as expected, regained its sharp form behind Mariano, uncorking an equally-stunning 13-2 run–capped by an Abdul dunk–that gave them a 64-63 lead.
After Teng pulled UST within 70-71, Buenafe clustered six straight points–highlighted by a completed four-point play–that kept Ateneo afloat 77-70 with 3:04 left.
As the Growling Tigers started to crumble offensively, Tiongson put the Blue Eagles comfortably ahead 81-72 courtesy of back-to-back clutch buckets, time down to just 69 seconds.
Two consecutive triples by Teng kept UST’s hopes alive at 78-81, then Abdul, trying to go for a steal, incurred his fifth and final foul off Ravena with 30.6 ticks left.
Taking matters into his own hands, Ravena wisely milked the clock, used a screen set by a teammate and pulled off a game-clinching jumper with 8.8 seconds remaining, sending the Ateneo faithful into a frenzy.
Teng uncorked a triple and appeared to draw enough contact from Buenafe, but the game officials didn’t blow their whistle, forcing Jarencio to storm into the court and lash out at them.
“Hindi na naman patas ang tawagan,” bewailed Jarencio. “Maging fair lang tayo sa decision on both teams.”
With their backs now against the wall, Jarencio stated: “Positive pa rin naman ako sa team. Fair and square laban natin.”
Ateneo (83) - Salva 30, Ravena 13, Tiongson 12, Buenafe 10, Chua 9, Slaughter 5, Gonzaga 2, Elorde 2. Sumalinog 0, Golla 0.
UST(78) - Teng 25, Mariano 22, Ferrer 13, Abdul 9, Fortuna 4, Lo 3, Pe 2, Bautista 0.
Quarterscores: 18-24, 31-38, 61-51, 83-78
More College Hoops stories:Ateneo vs. UST: Who's Your Pick?