ATENEO recovered from a wobbly start to bring down arch-rival La Salle, 71-62, and secure the No. 1 seed heading to the UAAP Season 81 Final Four on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Thirdy Ravena made an impact on both ends of the floor, scoring 14 points to lead the Blue Eagles back from a double-digit deficit and leading a defense that held the Green Archers to nine points in the final quarter.
Ravena scored five straight points, including a backbreaking three-pointer which gave the Blue Eagles a 71-58 lead with 2:06 remaining.
The Blue Eagles' 11th win against two losses assured them of a twice-to-beat advantage in the playoffs. Adamson also gained with Ateneo’s victory as it also clinched the No. 2 seed, thanks to La Salle’s loss.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game. They’ve been performing well in the second round, we expected them to come out and play well so we’re happy we came away with a win,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
The loss left La Salle in a precarious position.
At 8-5, the Green Archers are just a game ahead of University of the Philippines and Far Eastern University (both 7-6). They need to beat UP on Wednesday to avoid falling into a playoff for the last semifinal berth.
Ravena led the way for the Blue Eagles with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in a rare off-the-bench role.
“We tried a different combination. We don’t have a set starting five, last game we had a two-guard situation, but moving forward we’ll know what coach Tab [Baldwin] will do,” Arespacochaga said.
“Definitely there’s a purpose for that. Good thing Thidy wasn’t bothered with that change and he still played well.”
Angelo Kouame wasn’t as dominant as he was in the first game against La Salle, but he still finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and a block in limited minutes of action.
The Blue Eagles also got solid games from Raffy Verano, William Navarro and Mike Nieto who combined for 23 points.
Aljun Melecio led the way for La Salle with 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists though he missed six of his nine free throws.
Justine Baltazar and Santi Santillan added 12 and 10 points, respectively, as Taane Samuel marked his return to La Salle with eight points and three rebounds.
ATENEO 71 – Ravena 14, Kouame 11, Verano 9, Navarro 7, Nieto Mi 7, Nieto Ma 6, Tio 5, Mamuyac 5, Asistio 3, Go 3, Daves 1, Mendoza 0, Wong 0
LA SALLE 62 – Melecio 13, Baltazar 12, Santillan 10, Caracut 8, Samuel 8, Manuel 5, Montalbo 2, Bates 2, Serrano 2, Go 0
Quarters: 18-22, 35-35, 54-50, 71-62