ATENEO played tough defense in the second half to turn back National University 70-56 on Thursday, assuring itself of at least a playoff for a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four of the UAAP seniors basketball tournament at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.
The Blue Eagles turned a closely contested game into a blowout during the second half behind a defense that held NU star Bobby Ray Parks -- coming off a 32-point output against La Salle -- to a season-low 11 points.
Ateneo improved to 11-2 (win-loss).
With University of Santo Tomas and Far Eastern University still capable of reaching 11 wins at the end of the eliminations, the Blue Eagles can avoid any complications and secure that Final Four incentive with a win over University of Santo Tomas on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“(Both teams) were the top offensive teams in the league but somebody has to give,” said Ateneo coach Norman Black. “We weren’t able to control them in the first half but I’m pretty happy with our defensive effort in the second half which gave us a chance to pull away.”
The Bulldogs fell into a tie for fourth spot with idle La Salle at 7-5.
Greg Slaughter dominated for the Blue Eagles with a game-high 22 points to go along with seven rebounds and three blocks.
The Blue Eagles trailed by two points at the half, 31-33, but Nico Salva and Kiefer Ravena, who each had 14 points, starred in a 6-0 run midway in the third quarter for a 56-45 lead entering the fourth.
Another 12-2 run — with 10 of the points coming from Slaughter — gave the Blue Eagles a 68-50 advantage with less than four minutes to play.
ATENEO (70) – Slaughter 22, Salva 14, Ravena 14, Tiongson 6, Elorde 5, Buenafe 3, Sumalinog 2, Golla 2, Chua 2, Pessumal 0, Gonzaga 0.
NU (56) – Mbe 19, Javillonar 15, Parks 11, De Guzman 5, Rosario 2, Khobuntin 2, Alolino 2, Villamor 0, Rono 0, Betayene 0.
Quarterscores: 16-17; 31-33; 56-45; 70-56.