MATT Nieto and Isaac Go saved Ateneo's season on Wednesday, delivering the biggest baskets as the Blue Eagles overcame Far Eastern University, 88-84, in an overtime thriller to set up a rematch with La Salle in the UAAP Finals.
Big man Go hit the three-pointer that enabled Ateneo to extend the game to an overtime period, 75-all, before Nieto took over, hitting the looping jumper inside the lane and the dagger three-pointer that took the fight out of the Tamaraws.
The Mutt and Jeff pair's clutch baskets enabled the Blue Eagles to regain their footing in a season that saw them 13 straight games, blow a bid for a sweep after a loss to La Salle, then fall on the brink of elimination after a loss to the fourth-seeded Tamaraws.
That also set up a best-of-three grudge match against La Salle, which beat the Blue Eagles in last year's finals and also denied their longtime rivals a sweep of the two-round eliminations.
Game One is on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Nieto finished with 16 points including six in the final period for the Blue Eagles, who were on the verge of missing the finals as the number-one seed after trailing by eight points, 67-59, after a 14-2 start by the Tamaraws.
Jasper Parker converted a free throw with 14.5 seconds left in regulation to give FEU a 75-72 lead before Go came through with a three-pointer with eight seconds remaining - the third in the game for the Ateneo big man.
“We weren’t thinking that they were a 7-7 team,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, referring to FEU. “We were ready to play a close game and that’s what happened.”
“Credit to our players. They never gave up. They stayed focused and stuck to the game plan. There were up and downs but what a great game,” said Arespacochaga.
Thirdy Ravena had 17 points, seven rebounds, and four assists, while Chibueze Ikeh added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Blue Eagles. Go had 13 points and nine rebounds for Ateneo.
Parker had 19 points for the Tamaraws, who came one stop away from moving on to the finals. Tolentino had 13 points but committed a turnover in the final play of the regulation.
Ron Dennison had four points in his final game as a UAAP player.
Ateneo 88 - Ravena 17, Ma. Nieto 16, Ikeh 16, Go 13, Mendoza 5, Tio 5, Mi. Nieto 4, Tolentino 3, Black 3, Mamuyac 2, Verano 2, Porter 2, Asistio 0.
FEU 84 - Parker 19, Tolentino 13, Comboy 11, Orizu 10, Escoto 6, Inigo 6, Trinidad 6, Cani 5, Dennison 4, Ebona 2, Tuffin 2, Bayquin 0.
Quarters: 21-15, 40-33, 57-53, 75-75, 88-84.