ATENEO moved to within a win of capturing the UAAP Season 80 basketball crown after beating reigning champion La Salle, 76-70, on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Blue Eagles lead the best-of-three series, 1-0, and can sweep the Archers in Game Two on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Mike Nieto led a 9-1 spurt to start the fourth, while Thirdy Ravena and Isaac Go scored crucial baskets down the stretch to put the game away.
Matt Nieto was left bloodied following an inadvertent elbow by Ben Mbala in the second quarter.
Ateneo also limited Mbala on offense as the two-time Most Valuable Player only had eight points and 12 rebounds in the contest
Ravena had 12 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Matt Nieto and Mike Nieto finished with 11 points each, with Matt scoring all his points in the second half.
Aljun Melecio contributed 24 points, while Ricci Rivero tallied 10 points but was saddled with foul trouble.
"We couldn't play Ben straight up one-on-one. We needed to come up with schemes. We needed all our five guys to come up and do their roles in order to slow down Ben," said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
Leading 60-58 entering the fourth, Mike Nieto scored a three-point play before converting two consecutive putbacks as Ateneo grabbed a 69-59 lead.
Melecio made two straight baskets to cut Ateneo's lead to 71-70 but Ravena converted a putback and Go converted on a drop pass for a 76-70 lead.
The Blue Eagles took the lead early with a 10-0 run for a 16-8 advantage. Another big run to end the first put Ateneo ahead, 26-14.
La Salle fought back with Kib Montalbo's three-point play after a wrap-around move gave the Green Archers a 57-56 edge.
Ateneo 76 - Ravena 12, Ma. Nieto 11, Mi. Nieto 11, Asistio 10, Tolentino 9, Black 7, Go 5, Verano 5, Ikeh 4, Tio 2, Mamuyac 0, Mendoza 0, Porter 0.
DLSU 70 - Melecio 24, Ri. Rivero 10, Mbala 8, P. Rivero 7, Santillan 7, Tratter 7, Baltazar 4, Montalbo 3, Caracut 0, Go 0, Paraiso 0, Tero 0.
Quarters: 26-14, 43-39, 60-58, 76-70.