ATENEO clinched a top two spot in the Final Four of the UAAP Season 85 men's basketball tournament with a 75-67 conquering of University of the Philippines on Saturday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ateneo vs UP recap
Missing his first seven shots, Dave Ildefonso shook off his spotty first half and unloaded 15 points, 12 coming in the third quarter, alongside seven rebounds as the Blue Eagles extended their win streak to five at 10-3.
This victory assured Ateneo of a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals and slammed the door on National University's dreams of making it to the top two.
It also opens the opportunity for the Katipunan side to snag the top spot with a win in their last game against Adamson on Wednesday.
Ange Kouame stabilized the fort for the Blue Eagles with his 14 points, 17 boards, three assists, and two blocks to get back at the defending champions.
Ateneo scored 15 unanswered points between the final two frames to turn a 49-45 deficit at the 2:40 mark of the third quarter to an 11-point lead, 60-49, with 7:34 to go.
BJ Andrade and Gab Gomez then hit crucial baskets in the closing moments for the Blue Eagles, holding off the Fighting Maroons much to the delight of a packed 14,328 crowd.
"It was really hard work, but not nearly as hard as the work the team put in. Their effort in the second half, in the annals of my coaching time, that's as gutsy as it gets. And why? Because that's what UP demands. If you don't give that, they will run over you," said coach Tab Baldwin.
"They were their typical selves today, but I thought we were something a little bit different in the second half than we've been. That's the hallmark of people with character: when the occasion demands something different than your normal, you have to respond or else you're just average. We don't aspire to be average. We aspire to be special."
It's not the kind of stretch UP would like, dropping two of its last three assignments to end the eliminations at 11-3.
Carl Tamayo tried his earnest to will the Fighting Maroons back in the game, scoring four points to keep his side alive but missed a crucial three in the final minute to finish with a team-best 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Harold Alarcon also got 10 points and nine boards, but desperately needed help from usual suspects like Malick Diouf, who dealt with foul woes and ended with just seven points, seven rebounds, and three assists, and Zavier Lucero, who missed all of his 11 shots in the game.
ATENEO 75 -- Ildefonso 15, Kouame 14, Padrigao 13, Andrade 8, Koon 7, Daves 6, Gomez 5, Ballungay 4, Lazaro 3, Chiu 0, Garcia 0.
UP 67 -- Tamayo 20, Alarcon 10, Cagulangan 9, Fortea 9, Diouf 7, Galinato 7, Spencer 5, Lucero 0, Abadiano 0, Ramos 0.
Quarters: 23-18, 35-37, 53-49, 75-67.