ATENEO dodged a huge bullet from Far Eastern University-Diliman, escaping with a 90-82 squeaker to return to the finals of the UAAP Season 81 juniors' basketball tournament on Friday at Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
Kai Sotto was the stabilizing force for the Blue Eaglets, dropping 19 of his 22 points in the second half, to go with eight rebounds, three assists, and a steal to knock the wind out of the Baby Tamaraws' sails.
The second-seeded Blue Eaglets set up a grudge match with Nazareth School of NU in a best-of-three championship clash starting on Monday.
Ateneo was sitting comfortably on a 21-point lead, 79-58 with 5:11 remaining when FEU-Diliman made its move and got as close as seven, 87-80, courtesy of a three-pointer from RJ Abarrientos in the final 42.6 ticks.
RR Tolentino had a chance to get the Baby Tamaraws closer, but he muffed his pair of freebies, as Sotto and Geo Chiu iced the game with their own shots from the charity stripe in the waning seconds.
Ian Espinosa added 19 points for Ateneo, with 16 coming in the second half, to go with four assists, three rebounds, and two steals, while Joaquin Jaymalin got 17 for the defending champions.
"With only five guys coming back from our championship [team], kitang-kita naman sa endgame na kailangan pa namin ng experience," admitted coach Reggie Varilla.
Lead playmaker Forthsky Padrigao wound up with four points, six assists, and three steals before suffered from cramps in his left calf. He exited the game with 6:01 remaining and never returned.
Tolentino scored 19 points, 10 coming in the fourth period to lead the belated FEU-Diliman rally, while also hauling down 14 rebounds. Xyrus Torres had 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting from downtown.
Abarrientos punctuated his high school career with the Baby Tamaraws with17 points, eight rebounds, and five assists.
ATENEO 90 - Sotto 22, Espinosa 19, Jaymalin 17, Chiu 11, David 7, Fetalvero 6, Padrigao 4, Diaz 4, De Ayre 0, Coo 0, Lechoncito 0.
FEU-DILIMAN 82 - Tolentino 19, Abarrientos 17, Torres 14, Alforque 12, J. Bautista 7, Sajonia 6, Barasi 4, Anonuevo 3, Ona 0, Armendez 0.
Quarters: 18-18, 39-29, 66-52, 90-82.