IT is totally uncharacteristic for Ateneo to rely on a single player or two to win games, but Game One of the UAAP Season 81 Finals was an exception.
Not that the Blue Eagles are complaining, though.
Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena carried the Blue Eagles with big individual games in an 88-79 victory over the University of the Philippines Maroons that pulled them within a win of a title repeat.
Nieto finished with a career-best 27 points on 4-of-5 shooting from downtown to go along three steals while Ravena fell just short of a triple-double with his 21 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists.
Nieto and Ravena, however, insisted they got their points because the Blue Eagles executed their plays to near-perfection.
“Sa laro kasi, hindi mo alam kung anong mangyayari. It just so happened na talagang inangat kami ni Matt nung second half. He led us in terms of offense, with tempo and also with defense,” said Ravena.
“Di namin ine-expect yung outcome in terms of individual performance, but ine-expect namin talaga na may mag-step up,” he added.
Nieto said he merely tried to bounce back from a dismal first half where he made just two of his eight shots. As a result, he heard it from coaches at the halftime break.
“Dumating na lang 'yun. We don’t really look for our scoring lalo na ako, I look forward to executing well. Kaya nung first half, pinagalitan ako. I was not leading the team the right way, and we’re not executing the plays,” Nieto said.
“I take the blame. Because of that execution, they found me open and luckily my shots went in,” he added.
Nieto’s explosion was even more impressive considering he was sidelined for more than a month by a pinky finger fracture and dengue fever.
It took some time for him to get his rhythm back.
“Of course mahirap bumalik lalo na fractured finger at dengue so I was out for four weeks. Pero yung extra work after practice nag pay off naman sa game na ’to,” said the Blue Eagles star guard.