JUST as everyone expected, Ateneo completed a sweep of the eliminations in the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball tournament after burying University of the Philippines, 86-64, on Wednesday at Mall of Asia Arena.
The Blue Eagles completed a 14-0 romp and gained an outright finals berth, making them only the third team in the league's Final Four era to achieve the feat after University of the East in 2007 and University of Santo Tomas in 1993.
UST was declared outright champion after its sweep under rules in place at that time.
SJ Belangel provided the spark for Ateneo as he triggered the second-quarter turnaround for the Katipunan side that flipped a 25-24 deficit into a commanding 43-27 lead thanks to a 19-2 blast.
The Blue Eagles went on cruise control from that point on, shooting 53-percent from the field as the Maroons were unable to mount any challenge.
"We understand that this is a significant accomplishment for a basketball team in a season. As you all know, the job isn't done," said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin.
"This is the season before the season. It’s not gonna be very difficult for us to get our focus on the playoffs and watch the stepladder take place."
Belangel scored nine of his 14 points in that second frame while also grabbing three rebounds and two assists as Ateneo progressed to its fourth straight Finals and put itself in position to achieve a rare three-peat.
Ange Kouame also did his damage down low with 20 points, 12 boards, five blocks, two assists, and one steal for the Blue Eagles' 24th straight victory dating back to last season.
Will Navarro uncorked 13 points, two rebounds, two assists, and two steals, as Thirdy Ravena gathered 11 points, five assists, four boards, and three steals in the win that turned the Final Four into a step-ladder affair.
With the Blue Eagles sitting pretty in the finals, University of Santo Tomas and Far Eastern University begin the Final Four with a knockout match, with the winner taking on twice-to-beat UP for a place in the best-of-three finals.
Kobe Paras scored 13 points for the Maroons but was held to just 5-of-15 shooting from the field. He also had seven rebounds, two assists, and two blocks.
Bright Akhuetie added 11 points, six boards, and four steals, while Javi Gomez de Liano had 11 points, six rebounds, and two steals in the defeat.
The Fighting Maroons finished the eliminations at 9-5 (win-loss).
ATENEO 86 - Kouame 20, Belangel 14, Navarro 13, Ravena 11, Go 7, Ma. Nieto 7, Mamuyac 5, Tio 4, Maagdenberg 3, Mi. Nieto 2, Andrade 0, Chiu 0, Daves 0, Mallillin 0, Wong 0.
UP 64 - Paras 13, Akhuetie 11, Ja. Gomez de Liano 11, Ju. Gomez de Liano 9, Tungcab 5, Jaboneta 4, Rivero 4, Manzo 2, Murrell 2, Webb 2, Mantilla 1, Prado 0, Spencer 0.
Quarters: 20-21, 45-32, 65-44, 86-64.