By Claro Manzano
Ateneo Blue Eagles def. UP Fighting Maroons 88-79
Matt Nieto (27 points, 4/5 3FG, and 3 steals)
Matt failed to establish the Blue Eagles’ rhythm offensively as their lead point guard, but found himself leading the team on the scoring end. Thirdy Ravena picked up playmaking duties for the defending champions as Nieto seamlessly blended into an unfamiliar role. Nieto efficiently worked his way to his career-high as he pounced on scoring opportunities within the system of Tab Baldwin. Momentum clearly shifted to Ateneo late in the game as Nieto picked up a steal from Bright Akhuetie and finished with a layup with four minutes remaining.
Thirdy Ravena (21 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists)
One assist shy of a TRIPLE-DOUBLE. To add to Thirdy picking up playmaking duties for Ateneo, he emerged as their second-leading scorer and rebounder. The Blue Eagles did not have their regular balanced attack, while Kouame had an off-day. Hence, Ravena churned out an all-around effort for the defending champions.
Paul Desiderio (5 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists)
It was an off day for the go-to guy of UP as he was a marked man. Despite his shooting woes, Desiderio led the team in assists as the likes of Diego Dario and Jun Manzo stepped up to space the floor to combine for six threes made. Perhaps Desiderio would have flirted with a triple-double if he provided his usual offensive production.
- It was always a question of who was going to stop Thirdy. The likes of Jan Jaboneta, Paul Desiderio, and David Murrell had shifts trying to lockdown the reigning Finals MVP. However, Javi Gomez De Liano proved to be the most effective. The former UPIS Junior Maroon finished as one of the few players in his team, finishing with a positive +/- rating of 7.
- UP stayed in the game with its early offense by hitting open shooters and people down low in transition. Ateneo, meanwhile, trusted its system as always and did not bait to playing that pace.
- Bright Akhuetie hurt his knee while battling out for position with Ange Kouame midway into the third quarter. The season MVP returned with 7:04 remaining game and was clearly not at a 100 percent. Akhuetie was vital in UP’s press break (particularly in their series with Adamson) by often staying in the backcourt to free up their guards with handoffs. As a result from being slowed down by his injury, he resorted to staying in the front court on press breaks and this led to vital time being chipped away from their shot clock.
- The atmosphere of the game was certainly at a different level. Been there, done that for the Blue Eagles. Ateneo clearly took advantage of its experience and just shifted to another gear behind Matt Nieto in the last four minutes of the game to seal the W.