ATENEO bucked the absence of its own version of the 'Big Three' to knock out defending champion Far Eastern University, 77-72, and forge a title clash with National University in the 6th FCBL-Freego Cup on Tuesday at the Philippine Buddhacare gym in Quezon City.
Playing without Matt and Mike Nieto and Thirdy Ravena, the Eaglets went to Jime Escaler in the payoff period and the sweet-shooting forward did not disappoint.
In a fitting follow-up to his 21-point performance in the team’s 80-74 win over Mapua last Saturday, Escaler buried three triples in the fourth quarter, including back-to-back treys in a fiery 9-0 run as Ateneo wiped out FEU’s eight-point lead.
Escaler went on to finish with 23 points aside from posting nine rebounds, three blocks, and two assists to win his first Freego Player of the Game award.
Ateneo also drew 20 points from Jolo Mendoza and 11 from Jacob Magpoc to advance to the finals for the first time in the event also sponsored by Smart Sports, Fresh Gear, Colt Commercial, Powerbest Mrkg. Inc., Jumbo Plastic Linoleum, Hapee Toothpaste and Insular Square of Cebu.
The NU Bullpups also shrugged off a sluggish start to beat the Mapua Red Robins, 79-72, thanks to the efforts of Rey Lapiz, John Caliuan, and Hubert Cani.
Ateneo and NU meet in a one-game face-off on Saturday to determine this year’s champion.
Down 38-29 at the half, the Bullpups outscored the Red Robins, 29-17, in the third quarter to take the initiative.