Man of the match Matt Nieto savors moment but says he’s keeping focused on Ateneo's end goal
Matt Nieto saves the day and Ateneo ends the elimination round unbeaten. Marlo Cueto

IN 2006, an eight year old Matt Nieto watched at the Araneta Coliseum as Doug Kramer received the inbound pass from Macky Escalona in Game One of the UAAP Finals to steal the game from University of Santo Tomas at the buzzer.

Nieto vowed to himself that once he was put in that position – a chance to actually win a game for the Blue Eagles in the final seconds, he’ll grab it and never let it go.

The Eagles guard deflected Kib Montalbo’s pass with 9.1 seconds left towards Gian Mamuyac, before recovering the possession for good and getting fouled with 3.9 ticks left in the game.

He calmly sank both free throws before a gallant team defensive stand sealed the deal for the Blue Eagles, getting a slim win over La Salle to complete first round sweep of the UAAP Season 80.

“Actually, naalala niyo yung finals? Kay Doug Kramer? I was watching in Upper B. Malayo yung situation eh, but last second yun e,” Nieto said.

“Iniisip ko nga sana one day mangyari din sakin to at sana maging successful ako at di ako mag-fail. Luckily, naging milestone ng career ko to cause I was hoping this happens early in my career,” he added.

A few plays before his heroics, Nieto actually missed the second free throw which would have given them a two point lead with 1:57 remaining.

The 6-foot-1 guard was raring for the opportunity to make up for that missed free throw and he got exactly that, with the pressure of winning the game in front of more than 14,000 fans.

“When I missed the second one, actually it’s just my normal free throw, so when I got to the line the second time, parang sabi ko, this can’t happen again,” Nieto continued.

“Mashshoot na to. Mas naging confident na ako cause nagmintis na ako e. I practice that everyday. So madidisappoint ako kung hindi nangyari yun.”

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

His late game heroics capped off what was another impressive game for the third year guard as he paced Ateneo with 16 points and was a steadying force at the backcourt for coach Tab Baldwin.

That has been the way for Nieto this season as he has turned into the Ateneo backcourt leader.

“I just follow everything coach Tab says cause he’s the most experienced coach out there. He’s coached national teams and underdogs so tumatak lang sakin na if I follow my coach I know he’ll make me reach my full potential as a player,” he said.

Nieto will definitely savor the moment but vows to not let this milestone get into his mind – as memorable as that sequence may be.

Beating La Salle that way might be good, but he never loses his sight on the bigger picture.

“I won’t let it go to my mind. Next game nalang ang iisipin ko. When it comes, an opportunity like that, I will just follow coach Tab cause he knows best.” 

Follow the writer on Twitter: @bassman500