MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles dug deep to clinch their eighth straight UAAP Final Four berth off a thrilling 69-66 overtime finish at the expense of the UE Red Warriors’ playoff hopes at the Mall of Asia Arena on Wednesday, November 23.
Kai Ballungay led the way with 14 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting with 7 rebounds, while Dave Ildefonso churned out a 12-point, 14-rebound double-double plus 3 assists and 3 steals.
Reigning MVP Ange Kouame also continued his late-season resurgence with 12 points, 12 boards, and 2 blocks to help Ateneo rise to second place above NU (9-4) with a 9-3 record.
Coming off a huge Ildefonso triple with 43.3 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, 62-all, UE got its bearings back and started off strong with consecutive layups from Abdul Sawat to inch ahead, 66-62, with 3:16 remaining.
However, an untimely technical foul on Red Warriors assistant coach Don Allado, followed immediately by Sawat fouling out handed the Eagles three free throw opportunities which they all sank to get within 65-66 at the 2:40 mark.
Kouame then sank the go-ahead bucket, 67-66, with 1:46 remaining, as the Red Warriors failed to capitalize on offense down the stretch.
After two more free throws off the UE duty foul to mount a 69-66 lead with 4.5 seconds left, Red Warrior reserve JM Tulabut got a good look at the top of the key off the timeout, but his game-tying attempt clanked off as Ateneo held on for the win.
“Sometimes, winning ugly is not necessarily the way that you wanna win, but it’s just as valuable in the standings, and the standings are extremely important right now with the other results,” said Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin.
“Everybody is very mindful of the standings and it seems like every game takes a greater significance with the changing landscape of the standings. We’re really happy to get that win. You gotta give tremendous credit to UE with the job they did.”
Rey Remogat came out of nowhere to lead UE’s do-or-die cause with a career-high 21 points off the bench in 24 minutes, while Luis Villegas scattered 11 points, 9 boards, 5 steals, 4 assists, and 2 blocks as UE slid down to a 4-9 slate and out of title contention.
Ateneo now carries all-important momentum heading to its next match against the top-ranked UP Fighting Maroons on Saturday, November 26, 6:30 pm.
Meanwhile, UE is now just left to play for pride as it tries to hamper the La Salle Green Archers’ own Final Four rally at 3 pm on the same day.
Ateneo 69 – Ballungay 14, Ildefonso 12, Kouame 12, Padrigao 9, Andrade 6, Gomez 6, Lazaro 5, Koon 3, Daves 2, Garcia 0, Chiu 0.
UE 66 – Remogat 21, Villegas 11, Sawat 6, Pagsanjan 5, K. Paranada 5, Stebens 5, Payawal 5, Gilbuena 4, N. Paranada 2, Tulabut 2, Beltran 0, Alcantara 0.
Quarters: 18-11, 29-30, 47-50, 62-62 (reg.), 69-66 (OT).