Blue Eagles nip Tigers, 65-62, win fifth straight title

For the fifth straight year, coach Norman Black and Ateneo de Manila University paint the UAAP men’s basketball tourney blue and white.

Displaying their dreaded brand of play in the stretch, the Blue Eagles held off stubborn University of Santo Tomas, 65-62, Thursday that enabled Ateneo to complete its ‘Drive for Five’ in the Season 75 before another banner crowd of 20,186 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Second-year guard Kiefer Ravena waxed hot all game long with 22 points, highlighted by a huge step-back jumper in the crunch, while center Greg Slaughter rose to the occasion by racking eight of his 15 points in the fourth plus 11 rebounds and three blocks.

Their combined big exploits, coupled with the team’s suffocating defense, helped the Blue Eagles bag their fifth straight title under the tutelage of Black, and eighth overall since joining the league in 1978.

“Our defense was pretty good the entire game. We were able to stop their players and slowed them down,” stated Black, whose wards made a commendable job defensively, holding the Tigers to just 32.9 percent (24-of-73) from the field while forcing a handful of crucial errors in crunch time.

“It really could have gone either way down the stretch. This is really a close one. We just had enough offense to win,” he added.

Forward Nico Salva, who sizzled with a career-best 30 points in their 73-68 win in the opener last Saturday, could only muster eight markers and six boards this time, but those proved enough to clinch the Finals MVP award for the second straight season.

“There’s nothing quite like leaving your school with a championship. I never imagined getting five championships in five years,” stated Salva, who played his farewell game wearing the Ateneo uniform along with Slaughter, Justin Chua, Tonino Gonzaga and Oping Sumalinog.

Black, who is set to immediately take over the coaching reins of Talk ‘N Text in the pro league, became the first coach since the fabled Baby Dalupan of University of the East to win five straight league crowns. Dalupan steered the Warriors to a seven-title romp from 1965-1971.

Black admitted his latest feat “hasn’t quite sunk it yet and I don’t know when it will. But it’s something a really proud of.”

Ace playmaker Jeric Fortuna, who will graduate along with forward Melo Afuang, went all out with 20 points and gamely kept UST’s hopes in the thick of the things, but failed to get needed support from the other Tigers.

Jeric Teng and Aljon Mariano, who combined for 47 points in the opener, were limited to just nine and four, respectively, while Cameroon import Karim Abdul only collected eight markers and 12 boards.

 “Breaks of the game lang lahat. Nakahabol naman kami. Siguro para sa kanila talaga ‘yun,” lamented UST mentor Pido Jarencio, who failed to repeat his 2006 trick. “Hats off to coach Norman.”

After sizing up each other in the first 20 minutes, UST uncorked a 9-3 run, spiked by two treys from Tata Bautista, for a 38-32 lead but Ateneo countered with a 15-4 rally for a 47-42 lead.

Ravena and Slaughter sparked the Blue Eagles’ telling 12-2 surge for a 59-51 cushion with 6:43 to play.

UST, however, inched closer at 58-60 off a Teng lay-up. The Tigers had several opportunities to take the lead but fell into a maze of errors, while Tiongson, Slaughter and Ravena made them pay dearly and pushed the Eagles ahead, 65-59.

A Fortuna trey moved UST within 62-65 and Tiongson bungled two charities, keeping the door ajar for the Tigers.

Needing a triple to tie the game, Tata Bautista, however, threw the leather–along with UST’s title hopes–away as Tiongson milked the clock out and the Ateneo faithful whooped it up.

NOTES:

 - The huge crowd included former players from both sides: LA Tenorio, Larry Fonacier, JC Intal, Kirk Long, Jumbo Escueta, Jai Reyes and Doug Kramer for Ateneo; and Dylan Ababou, Kasim Mirza, Nino Gelig, and Japs Cuan for UST.

 - Black’s new team, the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters, have a game on Friday, but Nash Racela will still call the shots.

 - Salva became the first UAAP player of the modern era to be part of five championship teams. Rommel Adducul did the trick in the NCAA with San Sebastian from 1993 to 1997. It’s not sure if any of Dalupan’s UE players also achieved it during the school’s seven-year run.

- UST remained tied with FEU for the second-most number of UAAP men’s basketball crowns with 18 each. UE still leads all schools with 19. Ateneo is now in fourth spot with eight.

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