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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Eagles soar over Maroons in game one

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Ateneo banked on its veterans Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena to frustrate University of the Philippines, 88-79, and zero in on a second straight crown after Game 1 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines best-of-three title showdown at the jampacked Mall of Asia Arena on Saturday.

Eagles soar over Maroons in game one
BALL IN HIS HAND. 
UP’s Jun Manzo goes up for a possible two points against Ateneo’s Thirdy Ravena in Game 1 of the schools best-of-three championship games in the UAAP 81 season Saturday at the jampacked Mall of Asia won by the latter, 88-79, for a 1-0 advantage.  
Ey Acasio

Nieto fueled the Eagles’ offense with a new career high of 27 points, while Ravena was all over the place, scoring 21 points, hauling 10 rebounds and dishing off nine assists as Ateneo moved nearer its second straight crown and 10th title overall.

Ange Kouame added seven points and 13 rebounds for the Eagles, while holding league Most Valuable Player Bright Akhuetie to just 10 points and 5 rebounds.

The Eagles can finish off the Maroons in Game 2 on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum, hoping to become the first team to clinch a consecutive UAAP championship since Norman Black led the Eagles to five straight championships from 2008 to 2012.

The Fighting Maroons were in the game three-fourths of the way, trailing by just a basket entering the payoff period. They were also down by two halfway through the final period at 73-71 on a triple from Diego Dario.

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But Nieto took charge and snuffed out the Maroons’ chances with eight points in a telling 12-2 run. His fourth triple with two minutes remaining gave the defending champions an 87-73 lead.

“No question UP deserves to be in the finals. We had to make sure that we play good offensively and defensively to win,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.

Things looked bleak for the Maroons in the 6:31 mark of the third period when Akhuetie injured his knee following a collision with Kouame and was carried out on a stretcher by medics.

Akhuetie, who returned to the game with seven minutes left, hit two free throws that put UP to within three points, 71-68, halfway through the fourth quarter. 

The Maroons again threatened with Dario’s three-pointer with five minutes left, 73-71, before Nieto came through with his heroics.

“For a first timer in the finals, I have to appreciate the kind of effort that my boys have shown. One takeaway is that it’s possible to beat Ateneo. Before the series, they said we had no match against them, no championship experience. But they showed that with a little tweak in defense and a little experience, they can give Ateneo their money’s worth. Even if Bright was not there for a few minutes, they still fought it out,” said UP coach Bo Perasol.

Earlier, boxing icon Senator Manny Pacquiao offered the Maroons a free trip to the United States, where they can watch his fight with Adrien Broner should they win the championship.

Jun Manzo led UP with 19 points, while Juan Gomez De Liano added 16. 

Team captain Paul Desiderio, the hero of UP’s pulsating semifinal win against Adamson the last time around, could only cough up a paltry 5 points. 

The Eagles’ blistering start gave them a 17-7 lead in the first period, behind Ravena’s deft playmaking.

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The scores:

ATENEO 88—Nieto Ma. 27, Ravena 21, Kouame 7, Verano 6, Tio 6, Mamuyac 5, Asistio 4, Nieto Mi. 4, Wong 3, Mendoza 3, Go 2, Navarro 0.

UP 79—Manzo 19, Gomez de Liaño Ju. 17, Gomez de Liaño Ja. 11, Akhuetie 10, Dario 9, Desiderio 5, Tungcab 3, Vito 3, Prado 2, Murrell 0, Jaboneta 0, Gozum 0.

Quarters: 26-18, 39-38, 63-61, 88-79

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