The Ateneo Blue Eagles are getting close to their goals of completing a perfect season.
Showing no signs of rustiness from their 15-day break, the Blue Eagles got off to a hot start and finished stronger with a 91-77 smothering of the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers earlier at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Loyola dribblers got the best out of Thirdy Ravena as they went on to post their 15th straight win at the end of Game 1 in the 82nd University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball finals.
They could become the second squad to win a crown with an unblemished record if they beat the España-based dribblers for the last time in Game 2 on Wednesday.
The University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers last won the crown via a 14-game sweep of the elimination round back in 1993.
That was when UST, then coached by Aric del Rosario, completed their sweep with a 75-68 win over the Adamson Falcons.
“It’s good to get the win. But we tend not to see that as a win. We see this as the first half of basketball. We did a long break to prepare for the second half, which is Game 2. A lot of work to do,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin.
The Blue Eagles are now moving closer to history, and if they finish the season with 16-0 sweep, this could be the longest winning streak for a collegiate squad in the league in 26 years.
Ravena finished with a season-high 32 points, his highest output since the end of the elimination round when the Blue Eagles turned back the Adamson Falcons, 80-74, when made 23 points.
The 6’2” Ravena was hardly needed in the fourth quarter as the Blue Eagles nursed a 21-point edge, 80-59, off Matthew Daves’ layup off SJ Belangel’s pass.
The Growling Tigers got only six of 26 career-high points from Mark Nonoy in the fourth period, as he was held to just two points as the Blue Eagles managed to check him in third period for a 76-58 spread.
That was when Ravena was at his best, knocking in 14 points in the third, as the Blue Eagles first took a 21-point spread, their biggest advantage for the rest of the game.
Their halfcourt defense allowed them scoring a lot from transition points after the Blue Eagles forced 16 turnovers with their traps.
Angelo Kouame knocked in 18 points, and his inside play in the last 7:15 of the second saw Ateneo pulling away by 19, 38-19, with 7:15 remaining.
“We played really bad. We were not executing. We went there with some players who were not in their usual game. We were not able to prepare them well. There were situations na hindi namin nadaanan sa practice,” said Tigers’ coach Aldin Ayo.