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UAAP: Ateneo survives La Salle, 76-75

UNIVERSITY of the Philippines’ Paul Desiderio (right) drives to the basket against National University’s Matthew Aquino and Rev Diputado during UAAP action yesterday at the Mall of Arena in Pasay City. The Bulldogs won, 77-70. (Contributed photo by Joaqui Flores)

UNIVERSITY of the Philippines’ Paul Desiderio (right) drives to the basket against National University’s Matthew Aquino and Rev Diputado during UAAP action yesterday at the Mall of Arena in Pasay City. The Bulldogs won, 77-70. (Contributed photo by Joaqui Flores)

by Jerome Lagunzad

Pushed to its limit by defending champion La Salle last night, powerhouse Ateneo found a way to survive – barely.

Guard Matt Nieto stole the spotlight with a pair of key plays down the stretch as the Blue Eagles edged out the Green Archers in a frantic finish 76-75 to complete a first-round sweep in the UAAP Season 80 basketball tourney inside a packed Mall of Asia Arena.

The 6-foot-1 Nieto tallied a team-high 16 points and showed composure beyond his years down the stretch where he forced a costly turnover against La Salle counterpart Kib Montalbo and drained two pressure-packed free throws inside the last 10 seconds to help Ateneo complete an escape act.

The dramatic victory, witnessed by more than 14,700 fans in attendance mostly clad in green and blue, enabled the Blue Eagles to stay unscathed and improve to 7-0, the first time they achieved such trick since 2011 when they won the fourth crown of their five-peat run under Norman Black.

The Green Archers dropped into a tie at second spot with the Adamson Soaring Falcons with similar 5-2 records, but not after making the Blue Eagles sweat in the much-awaited rematch of last year’s finals filled with drama and excitement.

“Iba talaga ‘pag Ateneo-La Salle. Makikita mo na wala gusto magpatalo,” said Nieto after Ateneo squandered an early 14-point lead and appeared down for the count when La Salle put on the pressure in the crunch and even enjoyed a 75-74 lead going to the final minute.

Anton Asistio, who sparked the Blue Eagles’ early assault with three quick triples, and wingman Thirdy Ravena failed to crack the Green Archers’ solid defense in their next two offensive plays, leaving the Blue Eagles faithful on the edge of their seats with 9.1 seconds remaining.

Nieto, however, kept his focus as he tapped a risky pass by Montalbo intended to Andrei Caracut at the midcourt that led to a wild scramble. Montalbo tried to save the leather but he passed it to Nieto whom he also fouled in the process with 3.9 seconds to play.

After Nieto put them back on top, the Blue Eagles made one solid defensive stand, preventing reigning league MVP Ben Mbala from driving in the lane and leaving Montalbo for a harried short-stab that bounced off the glass just as time expired, much to the dismay of the Green Archers supporters.

Earlier, Matt Salem rediscovered his shooting touch as National University turned back struggling University of the Philippines 77-70 and stopped a three-game bleeding.

Scores:
First Game
NU 77 – Salem 21, Gaye 13, Alejandro 12, Joson 6, Diputado 5, Tibayan 4, Yu 3, Abatayo 3, Mosqueda 2, Morido 2, Aquino 2, Bartlett 2, Flores 2, Cauilan 0, Lastimosa 0, Rangel 0.

UP 70 – Desiderio 15, Dario 11, Gomez de Liano Ja 10, Lim 7, Ouattara 6, Manzo 6, Lao 6, Prado 5, Gomez de Liano Ju 4, Vito 0, Ricafort 0.

Quarters: 18-21, 33-38, 56-53, 77-70.

Second Game
ATENEO 76 – Nieto Ma 16, Asistio 14, Mendoza 10, Ravena 9, Verano 6, Go 4, Tolentino 4, Nieto Mi 4, Black 4, Mamuyac 3, Ikeh 2.

LA SALLE 75 – Rivero R 19, Mbala 18, Go 11, Rivero P 8, Caracut 5, Paraiso 5, Tratter 4, Montalbo 3, Santillian 2, Gonzales 0.

Quarters: 28-16, 43-36, 63-62, 76-75.

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