ANGE Kouame watched from the dugout as Malick Diouf received the UAAP Season 85 MVP trophy on Wednesday.
As soon as the opening buzzer sounded, the Blue Eagles' naturalized player reminded everyone how great he is.
Kouame put Ateneo on his back in a 65-55 Game Two victory over University of the Philippines at Smart Araneta Coliseum that extended this best-of-three finals to a winner-take-all Game Three.
[READ: Malick Diouf named UAAP MVP]
Kouame's undergoal stab with 3:21 remaining took the fight out of the Fighting Maroons' sail and helped the Blue Eagles restore an 11-point lead, 65-54 after Carl Tamayo tried to spark a late uprising.
Kouame's 19 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks helped extend this finals grudge match to a Game Three on Monday, still at the Big Dome.
Kai Ballungay also stepped up after a scoreless Game One and unloaded 15 points and five boards, while Mythical Team member Forthsky Padrigao had 11 points, seven rebounds, and three steals.
But it was a masterclass on defense from Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin that swayed the needle as the Blue Eagles held UP to its lowest output under coach Goldwin Monteverde while forcing the Diliman side to 18 turnovers.
The loss could prove doubly costly for the defending champions after Zavier Lucero hurt his left knee midway through the fourth quarter.
Tamayo, though, kept UP in the game, sparking an 8-2 spurt capped off by a Terrence Fortea three that made it a 63-54 game in the last 4:46.
The Fighting Maroons had a chance to close in further, but Henry Galinato's dunk attempt got foiled by the rim that all but sucked the life out of the Iskos.
Tamayo shouldered the load for UP with 15 points and three rebounds to make up for the pedestrian showing of newly-minted MVP Diouf, who only got two points to go with his 11 boards in 16 minutes of play.
ATENEO 65 - Kouame 19, Ballungay 15, Padrigao 11, Daves 6, Chiu 6, Ildefonso 3, Gomez 2, Lazaro 2, Koon 1, Quitevis 0, Andrade 0.
UP 55 - Tamayo 15, Cagulangan 11, Fortea 9, Lucero 6, Alarcon 5, Abadiano 4, Diouf 2, Galinato 2, Spencer 1, Gonzales 0, Calimag 0, Lina 0.
Quarters: 20-19, 41-33, 57-44, 65-55.