NATIONAL University clinched twice-to-beat advantage in the UAAP basketball tournament's Final Four for the first time in school history after defeating Ateneo, 70-65, on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Bobby Ray Parks finished with 24 points, seven rebounds, and two steals in the game but it was Dennis Villamor who clinched the victory, sinking a wide-open three-pointer from the left corner with 22.2 seconds left to increase the lead to 68-63.
On the other hand, the loss left five-time champion Ateneo on the brink of missing the Final Four. The Eagles now need to beat UST in its final elims to salvage a playoff for the fourth and last semifinal place.
The Bulldogs finished the eliminations with a 10-4 (win-loss) record after going 6-1 in the second round to clinch a Top Two place for the first time since the Final Four format was instituted in 1994.
NU can still take the No. 1 spot if De La Salle wins its final game against University of Santo Tomas on Saturday to forge a three-way tie at the top with the Bulldogs and Far Eastern University.
"We are very humbled with this victory. This is the first time we are in this position," said an elated NU coach Eric Altamirano.
The Bulldogs, looking for their first league championship since 1954, bounced back in a big way after their six-game winning run was snapped by De La Salle, 55-57, on Sunday.
"I told the players that we lost a tough game against La Salle. We felt bad about it, but after the game, we are still in number one. We still had an opportunity for the twice to beat (edge)," said Altamirano.
The NU coach also told his players "to thank God for it and take advantage of the opportunity dahil bihira ang ganoong second chance."
After trailing for the most part, Ateneo finally grabbed the lead on a 6-0 run capped by a JP Erram jumper, 53-52, with six minutes left in the game.
But the Bulldogs answered with a 10-2 blast for a 62-55 advantage before sealing the win when Parks, faking an isolation, dished off to Villamor who was left wide-open by the napping Ateneo defense, 68-63.
The Blue Eagles fell to 7-6 and slipped to fifth place behind UST (7-5) ahead of their showdown on September 18.
NU (70) – Parks 24, Mbe 17, Villamor 9, Alejandro 5, Khobuntin 4, Alolino 4, Porter 3, Javelona 3, Rono 1, Rosario 0, Javillonar 0.
Ateneo (65) – Newsome 17, Erram 11, Tiongson 8, Elorde 8, Pessumal 7, Buenafe 7, Golla 4, Ravena 3, Tolentino 0, Capacio 0.
Quarterscores: 21-18; 33-29; 49-45; 70-65.