ATENEO BLUE EAGLES def. UP FIGHTING MAROONS, 89-63
Ange Kouame (19 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks)
It was just another day in the office for, perhaps, the most dominant player in the UAAP today. Throughout the game, Kouame was a monster defensively, racking up seven blocked shots and his mere presence in the paint alone was enough to squander UP’s offense. Ange also managed to keep his counterpart, reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie, unproductive with early foul trouble. Kouame does what he does and in this game, it was no different for, arguably, the front runner for the league’s MVP award.
Matt Nieto (18 points, five rebounds, 2/5 3PT)
Matt Nieto’s love for big games never fails. Against a powerhouse UP team and the most hyped game of the first round of the elimination, Nieto was locked in and again provided the offensive boost for the Eagles, shooting an efficient 53% from the field including 40% from the three point arc.
SJ Belangel (11 points, three assists)
Okay, maybe Belangel didn’t have the loudest of games but boy, is he a joy to watch leading the fort for Ateneo’s second unit. Belangel’s natural point guard skills were in full display in the game. Albeit playing just 15 minute, he showed out with his clean mid-range game, nifty drives and finishes. Belangel has been an effective stabilizer off the bench and expect him to do so as the season progresses.
Kobe Paras (15 points, four rebounds, 4/16 FG)
Kobe Paras did not have an impressive stat line like in his previous games as proved by his atrocious 4/16 FG shooting but he did manage to go to the free throw stripe eight times, a testament of his relentless will to drive and create contact under the rim. Paras may still have a long ways to develop as a legit superstar but his knack of getting to the free throw line is certainly a positive stepping stone for the celebrated fighting Maroon.
- Just like that, the Ateneo Blue Eagles sent a gentle reminder to the rest of the UAAP that they are still the juggernaut team to beat. In one of the most highly anticipated elimination games in recent memory, the Eagles once again put a defensive masterpiece in front of 19,000 plus fans. After an exciting first quarter that saw both teams go neck-to-neck with each other, Ateneo started to clamp down UP, defensively, especially in the second quarter where they only allowed the Maroons to score just 10 points. Ateneo may have had their difficulties producing baskets throughout the first round, but their impeccable defense has always managed to salvage them and this game was no different. They limited UP to just 37% fg shooting and a lowly 20% shooting from behind the three point arc.
- After ending the half with just a 35-31 lead, Ateneo entered the third quarter in full throttle forcing the Maroons to commit turnovers that led to easy fast break points for the Blue Eagles. Ateneo also started to convert their outside shots led by Nieto which ultimately blew the lead wide open for the Blue Eagles, ending the quarter leading 61-46.
- UP’s four-game winning streak came to a halt but this game felt like a microcosm of how the team has been playing in the season so far. Yes, the Maroons have racked up wins enough for second place in the standings but their play has been a downer given how talented their team is. They have relied too much on isolation plays, mostly on Paras’ drive and kicks on offense and have failed to materialize their deep roster, thus far. Hopefully for the Maroons, this huge loss serves as a wakeup call. UP may have an elite LINEUP but they are not yet an elite TEAM like Ateneo.
- It was worth noting that UP head coach Bo Perasol went berserk against a referee in the third quarter, and I mean going full on beast mode, which led to him being ejected. It was a wild scene that pretty much encapsulated all the madness leading up this game. Enjoy the internet, Coach Bo.
- The first round of eliminations is over but a lot of promising basketball is still ahead. Ateneo have now swept the first round and the countdown to a perfect 16-0 record for the season lives on. Meanwhile, UP remains an interesting storyline on how they develop as a team moving forward.