Ateneo Blue Eagles def. UP Fighting Maroons, 87-79

NOTABLE PLAYERS

Thirdy Ravena, Ateneo (17 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists): After struggling in their first game versus Adamson, Ravena went back to his old ways as Ateneo’s main penetrator as he converted nine of his 17 points in the charity stripes and proved deadly against the Maroons with his post-up game in the final period.

Ange Kouame, Ateneo (14 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks): Kouame was a defensive monster throughout the game. Swatting five shots, he anchored Ateneo’s stifling interior defense but more importantly, played terrific defense against Bright Akhuetie and limiting him to a lowly 4/10 shooting.

Anton Asistio, Ateneo (16 points, 4/5 3FG): Asistio gave a big lift for the Blue Eagles with his on point three point sniping. Finishing the game with an impressive 80% shooting from beyond the arc, the steady guard poured in 3 of his 4 threes and 11 of his 16 points in the first half alone.

Juan Gomez De Liano (29 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists): Carrying pretty much the major chunk of UP’s offensive load, Juan Gomez De Liano played like a man possessed. Finishing with 29 points, 16 in the first half, on 12/19 FG shooting and chipping in four three-pointers, the prized sophomore showcased his full Harden-like offensive repertoire. Just ask Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena’s ankles after falling victim to that NASTY step back jumper.

QUICK ANALYSIS

  • After their surprising defeat in Sunday, Ateneo came back in championship form for this game. Relying on their stifling defense and team play, the Blue Eagles held the fort in the interior, especially in the second half. Led by Kouame, Ateneo finished with seven team blocks. Although the stat sheet may tell a different story as the Fighting Maroons actually shot a respectable 44% FG, the Blue Eagles were active in defending the perimeter. This was especially seen on the passing lanes forcing multiple crucial turnovers as coach Tab Baldwin meticulously employed his familiar 1-3-1 zone defense in critical parts of the game. The Blue Eagles also got lofty bench contributions as they topped UP in bench scoring, 24 to 12.
  • The first half of the game was a back and forth affair with Gomez De Liano putting on an explosive show for the Maroons. On the other hand, Ateneo was quietly answering with timely baskets and attacking the paint resulting to free charities. In the third quarter, however, the story of the game quickly favored the Blue Eagles. Ateneo opened the second half with a 14-2 run to up their lead to double digits before stabilizing the Maroons’ spitfires to preserve the lead and the win.
  • UP also had their share of offensive faults during that stretch in the third frame as they stuck on one and done offense, mostly attempting hurried and contested jump shots instead of going to their strengths which were off-ball movements, putting the ball on the post, or ball screen plays for Juan GDL. In the fourth quarter, things got interesting after Maroons head coach Bo Perasol was ejected for complaining to a non-call on Akhuetie’s dunk attempt. With Ateneo holding their biggest lead of the game at 75-62, UP answered with an 8-0 run of their own courtesy of Akhuetie’s balibag miracle shot, Diego Dario’s and-one layup, and Juan Gomez De Liano’s booming triple. The Blue Eagles, however, turned to Ravena and made a fool out of his defenders with two beautiful post-up spin moves leading to an easy lay-in and a fouled dunk attempt (Thirdy posting up is just unfair, to be honest). Showing championship poise, Ateneo switched up their defense in the final minutes and took the game for good.
  • The big difference in the game was the free throws. While Ateneo attempted a whopping 31, UP was held to only SEVEN. The wide margin was mainly because of the different approach both teams had during the game. The Maroons were mostly reliant on outside shots, off-ball cuts and catch and shoots from Jun Manzo, Paul Desiderio, and Juan Gomez De Liano. In the process, they veered away touches from Bright Akhuetie which resulted in an unsatisfactory eight-point production from the Nigerian center. Ateneo, on the other hand, exploited mismatches either on pick and roll actions or post-ups and relentlessly attacked the transition off forced turnovers.
  • This is somewhat a big win for the defending champions. Although it is still just their second game of the tournament, Ateneo needed to get their mojo back after a poor showing against Adamson. Relatively a cat and mouse chase game especially in the second half, the Blue Eagles were able to show their composure when UP was threatening to catch their tails. While the team got usual contributions from the Nieto brothers, Kouame, Anton Asistio, Raffy Verano and Adrian Wong, there was no doubt that Thirdy Ravena was the difference maker for Ateneo with his constant pressure on the opponent’s defense. There were multiple ways in his attack: either with his hugely improved post-up game, attacking pick and rolls and isolations or his casual put back dunks out of nowhere which will seemingly happen every game this season.
  • For the Maroons, this should not come as a disappointing loss as they showed flashes of being a true contender this season. Juan GDL was spectacular, as usual, Paul Desiderio had an effective overall game with 15 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists on  7/13 shooting, Akhuetie was solid all-around with 8 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists while getting decent contributions from the likes of David Murrell, Javi Gomez De Liano, Jun Manzo and Diego Dario. With this showing, expect the Maroons to be constant threats for their upcoming games.
  • Overall, it was a fun-filled affair for both teams who are considered by many as contenders for the Final Four. We got to see the Juan Gomez De Liano -Thirdy Ravena ala Harden-Westbrook matchup and a high quality basketball game so expect more fireworks and highlights once these two teams meet again in the second round of the season.