MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles finished the UAAP Season 85 elimination round with an all-important 66-61 win over the feisty Adamson Soaring Falcons to clinch their fifth straight top seed at the Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday, November 30.
Kai Ballungay had his way on the boards with a big double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds (8 offensive) on 7-of-13 shooting in 29 minutes, while frontcourt partner and reigning MVP Ange Kouame likewise ended with a double-double of 12 points and 12 boards.
Ateneo looked headed for a comfortable endgame after leading by as many as 11, 52-41, early in the fourth quarter.
However, former Adamson high school star AP Manlapaz continued his torrid offensive breakout after having 10 third-quarter points and helped the Falcons continually inch closer down the stretch – peaking with a Cedrick Manzano layup with 1:42 left in regulation to get within one, 61-62, off an 11-2 run.
Although Kouame left the door open in the clutch for an Adamson tie-up off a missed and-one conversion with 35 ticks left, Joaquin Jaymalin and Joem Sabandal missed their long bombs off a tense final scramble, leading to the game-sealing BJ Andrade free throws to set the final score.
“It’s the Final Four already and we can’t get too caught up in the fact we’re No. 1. We all know that entering the Final Four, it’s a whole new ball game,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
“We’re going to make sure that we don’t relax or let our guard down. We’re going to be ready with whomever wins between Adamson and La Salle.”
Manlapaz finished with his best game yet in the seniors division with a career-high 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting in just 16 minutes off the bench, while Collegiate Press Corps Player of the Week Jerom Lastimosa scored 10 with 8 boards, albeit on a cold 4-of-15 clip.
Denied of an outright Final Four berth, Adamson must now go through the gauntlet with a fourth-seed playoff against the La Salle Green Archers after they wound up tied at 7-7 at the end of the eliminations.
The La Salle-Adamson knockout match for the last semifinal berth is set at 6 pm on Sunday, December 4, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Meanwhile, the twice-to-beat defending champion UP Fighting Maroons went down to the second seed due to an inferior quotient to Ateneo despite an identical 11-3 standing, and will now face the third-ranked NU Bulldogs in the Final Four.
Ateneo 66 – Ballungay 18, Andrade 13, Kouame 12, Koon 7, Padrigao 6, Ildefonso 3, Gomez 3, Chiu 2, Lazaro 2, Garcia 0, Quitevis 0, Daves 0.
Adamson 61 – Manlapaz 22, Lastimosa 10, Douanga 7, Hanapi 5, Flowers 5, Manzano 4, Yerro 4, Sabandal 2, V. Magbuhos 2, Colonia 0, Jaymalin 0, Barasi 0, Fuentebella 0, Barcelona 0, Torres 0, W. Magbuhos 0.
Quarters: 17-16, 33-27, 49-41, 66-61.