Ateneo wins UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball title, edges La Salle in a thriller

MANILA, Philippines - After 5 long years, Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles are once again the Kings of the UAAP Basketball after dethroning De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers, 88-86 on Sunday, December 3, 2017 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto celebrate Ateneo’s victory over La Salle in Game number 3
Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto celebrate Ateneo’s victory over La Salle in Game number 3. Photo Credit:

Another good start for Ateneo as it forced La Salle to commit several turnovers to get the early 10-4 advantage. You know it’s a good Eagle basketball when a non-shooter big man like Chibueze Ikeh takes a three pointer and makes it.

La Salle fought back and managed to trim the lead to just 4 but Ateneo stopped Archers’ run as soon as Isaac Go and Aaron Black stepped in the court and pushed the ball to the basket to bring the margin back to a double-digit.

ADMU successfully maintained the lead at the end of the opening quarter, 24-14.

2-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) Ben Mbala spent the half of the 1st period on the bench to preserve his energy. But as soon as he re-entered the court in the beginning of the 2nd quarter, La Salle all of a sudden stepped up its game and immediately tied the game at 25.

Anton Asistio and Thirdy Ravena combined their efforts to grow their lead once again. But Aljun Melecio started to heat-up from the outside to counterattack Ateneo.

Ateneo bigs Raffy Verano, Isaac Go and guard Anton Asistio broke the 4th deadlock of the game and wrapped up the 1st half with a narrow 7-point, 45-38 lead.

Compared to the last game where Ateneo lost the will to win in the early phase of the third quarter, the Blue Eagles were full of energy this time. However, La Salle tried to replicate its excellent scoring run in the same quarter in game number 2 where it erased Ateneo’s 19-point lead. Archer Santi Santillan became La Salle’s main man as it started the third.

DLSU took the lead for the first time with Ricci Rivero’s seamless trey but it was just momentarily as Raffy Verano also sank a triple.

Ricci Rivero for the second straight time obtained his 4th personal foul. But before he was pulled out by Coach Aldin Ayo, he wowed the crowd with a baseline dunk and gave the lead back to his team, 62-59.

Both squads gave the fans and patrons a very good game. It was a pure thriller as the penultimate quarter ended in another deadlock, 66-all.

Coach Ayo gambled on Ricci Rivero and sent the wingman back with plenty of time left in the final period. Aside from Rivero, Ben Mbala was also nursing his 3rd personal foul.

Ateneo guards Matt Nieto and Anton Asistio came back strong with a back-to-back long bombs for the instant 74-68 lead. Coach Ayo didn’t waste any time to burn a timeout to extinguish the hot shooting hands of the Blue Eagles.

ADMU bursted an 8-0 run and had most of the boards, 9-3, as the 5-minute mark of the fourth approached. DLSU on the other hand, kept on shooting blanks. Ricci Rivero ended La Salle’s dry spell as he completed his foul shots.

Ateneo matched its biggest lead of the game with 10 with 3:33 left. Thirdy Ravena had a terrific night as he led the last period onslaught. 80-70 in favor of the Blue Eagles.

Aljun Melecio made a three pointer to cut the lead to just 7 with 2 minutes remaining in the game. However. Ben Mbala committed his 4th personal foul but refused to leave the floor to keep on fighting and hoped to save La Salle from a painful exit.

La Salle made it to a one-possession ballgame, 82-80 with 48 seconds left with Andrei Caracut’s three points.

Isaac Go, the Atenean hero against FEU in the semis, once again made a timely rainbow shot to make the Eagles’ lead to 5, 85-80. Go spared La Salle with one-full shot clock.

The Green Archers had a chance to lessen the gap with a trey but it missed and recovered by the Blue Eagles. Coach Tab Baldwin, called a timeout to secure his team’s final possession with 15 ticks remaining in the ballgame.

Andrei Caracut fouled Anton Asistio after the inbound play. The latter split his charities but gave Ateneo a two-possession lead, 86-80.

Clearly, La Salle opted for a quick 3 and Aljun Melecio made it with 5 seconds left. Matt Nieto went to the line after getting fouled and completed his foul shots, 88-83.

Kib Montalbo hit the last shot from behind the arc and it went it. However, his three wasn’t enough to tie the game and officially handed the trophy to Ateneo after 5 long years. 88-86 is the final score of the game in favor of the new kings of the UAAP, the Ateneo De Manila University.

Go was named Manulife's "110% Heart and Hustle" Player of the Finale while Ravena won as the Finals MVP.

On behalf of The Summit Express, congratulations to the entire Ateneo De Manila University for a One Big Fight!

— Joey Boy Capos, The Summit Express

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