MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eaglets nullified its Game 2 loss with a thrilling win in the do-or-die Game 3 over the Nazareth School of National University (NU) Bullpups, 63-58, to claim the UAAP junior baksetball title at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan, Friday, March 2.
Both employing highly defense-oriented plays in the first quarter, no team cracked double-digits score for at least 8 minutes. However, the Eaglets soared until the end, with Jason Credo and Angelo David completing a 9-0 run for the period, 15-6.
Early in the second, Ateneo finally had full control after multiple defensive stops with a 10-point, 22-12 lead. However, RJ Minerva led the gap-closing 9-2 charge, punctuated with a Miguel Oczon midrange that put them within 3, 21-24. In the midst of this, Ateneo star SJ Belangel had a repeat of his Game 2 foul troubles, with his third foul coming 4 minutes before halftime. The Eaglets also had a couple of injury scares to starters Joaqui Manuel and Matt Escalona heading into intermission. Despite this, they still led by 5 at the half, 28-23.
The arena’s energy reached an early fever pitch in the third quarter when the Eaglets were called for 3 quick fouls, including a technical on Ildefonso for faking a foul. In response, Paul Manalang drained huge back-to-back triples to put his team back within striking distance, 29-32. Immediately afterwards, Kai Sotto was called for consecutive offensive and defensive fouls, prompting the Ateneo fans to start chanting “luto” (game-cooking). One fan even threw a small object in the direction of a referee. With the Ateneo groove in shambles, Minerva got deep in the paint to complete the 8-0 run, but the Eaglets still recovered to take a 44-43 lead after three periods.
In the final frame, Terrence Fortea came up huge with a crafty spin move and pull-up triple to boost the lead up to 6, 54-48. However, Belangel and Sotto each nailed crucial and-ones and hit their bonus free-throws to tie the game with two minutes remaining in regulation. Another Sotto tip and Manuel drive later, Ateneo is suddenly up 4 off the 10-2 run with 40 seconds remaining.
Yet still, Oczon refused to give in as he nailed a pull-up trey to close the gap to one, 57-58. Pao Javillonar then split his charities to once again tie the game. But Sotto was too much for the Bullpups as he sank one final putback for the 60-58 lead. NU then blew up their play off the timeout and immediately hacked Belangel, who walked to the line and calmly sank the dagger freebies for the 62-58 separation. For good measure, Ildefonso sank one last free-throw and intentionally missed the second as the Ateneo community erupted in celebration.
Sotto was named the Finals MVP after a double-double performance of 19 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks – all team-highs. Belangel closed the final curtain on his Juniors career with 16 points and 8 rebounds including the clutch free-throws that effectively sealed the game. Ildefonso added 13 in what is also his final performance for the Eaglets. On the other end, Fortea paced the Bullpups’ efforts with a team-high 14 points. Minerva added 13 markers and 9 boards while Rhayyan Amsali was held to 6 points on 3/12 shooting.
The Eaglets are now winners of their first Juniors basketball championship since 2015, when they also defeated the Bullpups in a 3-game series.
ADMU (63) – Sotto 19, Belangel 16, Ildefonso 13, Credo 4, Manuel 4, Chiu 4, David 3, Escalona 0, Jaymalin 0, Santos 0
NU (58) – Fortea 14, Minerva 13, Manalang 8, Oczon 7, Amsali 6, Javillonar 5, Pangilinan 3, Malonzo 2, Coyoca 0
Quarter Scores: 15-6, 28-23, 44-43, 63-58