MANILA, Philippines – Ateneo came out in full attack mode in the second half as the Blue Eagles repulsed rival La Salle Green Archers anew, 75-68, to stay unbeaten in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament on Tuesday, April 12 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
In front of a UAAP pandemic record of 11,124 fans, the defending champions completed an elimination sweep of the Archers to roll to an 8-0 record at the start of the second round. The victory also extended Ateneo’s incredible streak to 34 straight wins dating back to October 2018.
SJ Belangel paced the Blue Eagles with 15 points and 6 rebounds, while Gian Mamuyac also scored 15. Dave Ildefonso and BJ Andrade added 9 points each.
While the Archers kept pace with the Eagles early, and even grabbed the lead a few times in the first half, they just found no answer to Ateneo’s second-half tear. The Archers remained at third at 5-3.
It was the first fan-attended Ateneo-La Salle showdown in over two years. But instead of the usual sea of blue and green, fans of the rival schools showed up united in pink to show support for the presidential bid of Vice President Leni Robredo.
Coming off a 36-all tie early in the third quarter, Ateneo turned it into another no contest off a pivotal 21-4 run, capped by a Matthew Daves layup at the 2:27 mark for the 57-40 separation.
The Archers tried their best to play catch up in the final frame, but only got within single digits late to set the final score.
“We really had to make adjustments, and we kind of had to get back to the drawing board because Derick [Pumaren] had a great game plan today, and he really forced our offense to struggle to find opportunities,” said Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin.
“We figured a few things out the second half, and then our press really helped us out the second half. We got some timely turnovers, and we got some easy points.”
Veteran guard Kurt Lojera led the Archers with 21 points and 6 boards. Evan Nelle, who fueled La Salle’s hot start, finished with a UAAP career-best 20 points plus 4 steals on a 7-of-17 clip.
Meanwhile, both MVP-caliber big men from both sides had themselves quiet outings as Ateneo’s Ange Kouame, who was reportedly not feeling well, finished with 7 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block in under 20 minutes on the floor. La Salle anchor Justine Baltazar, on the other hand, had a low-key 10-point, 10-board double-double.
All teams will get a week off, as Ateneo gets back to business on Tuesday, April 19, in a 4:30 pm match against the unpredictable UE Red Warriors. Meanwhile, La Salle gets a 12:30 pm assignment against the feisty UST Growling Tigers.
Ateneo 75 – Belangel 15, Mamuyac 15, Ildefonso 9, Andrade 9, Kouame 7, Tio 6, Verano 4, Koon 4, Daves 4, Chiu 2, Lazaro 0, Mendoza 0.
La Salle 68 – Lojera 21, Nelle 20, Winston 10, Baltazar 10, M. Phillips 3, Nonoy 3, Manuel 1, B. Phillips 0, Cuajao 0, Nwankwo 0.
Quarters: 21-18, 35-32, 60-47, 75-68.