Blue Eagles take No. 1 seed and send bottom 4 foes to knockout duel
There were so many reasons for Ateneo to feel grateful on Wednesday night. The Blue Eagles returned to a familiar perch as they entered the Final Four and also bought themselves extra time to get Ange Kouame into violin shape in time for the semi-final wars.
They will now make sure to capitalize on these blessings.
“Hopefully this gives us some momentum for the Final Four,” assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga said after Ateneo’s 66-61 win over Adamson in the UAAP Season 85 Men’s Basketball Tournament gave the Blue Eagles the No. 1 seed.
Ateneo’s win also sent the Falcons into a one-night duel with the La Salle Green Archers, who earlier at the Smart Araneta Coliseum held off the University of Santo Tomas (UST), 77-72.
Adamson and La Salle face off in a knockout match for the No. 4 seed on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
And while the two teams battle, Ateneo will be given an extra day off, which will be crucial as Kouame continues to recover from a knee injury.
“We thought getting this win would give us more rest in Ange,” Arespacochaga said. ” Its very important for us ; it’s not a complete rest of course, but it will give us the opportunity to keep him healthy.”
6ft 10in Kouame, the reigning league’s most valuable player, delivered a key basket in the streak while BJ Andrade buried the free throws that gave Ateneo their 11th victory in 14 games . That record was tied with defending champion University of the Philippines, but the Eagles secured first place thanks to a higher quotient.
This means that Ateneo will face whoever survives the Adamson-La Salle duel.
“I think a big advantage for us is that they will knock each other out while we rest, train and prepare for the next game,” Arespacochaga said.
Kai Ballungay beat Ateneo with 18 points, his straight three and Kouame’s two-handed jam setting off a huge run that gave them an 11-point lead at the start of the final quarter.
But the Falcons, who wanted to eliminate complications in the race for the No. 4 spot, fought back as Adrian Manlapaz poured in 17 of his 22 points in a dizzying chase for the Blue Eagles.
“We gave ourselves a chance at the end. Ateneo are hard to beat, but they are beatable,” Adamson coach Nash Racela said.
Cedrick Manzano fired Adamson within a point with less than two minutes left before Kouame delivered the basket that deflated the Falcons.
“We knew what this game meant to them, but we wanted more,” said Ballungay, who had three triples and grabbed 14 rebounds, including eight offensive rebounds.
The Archers, meanwhile, simply watched the Tigers self-destruct in the final period.
La Salle held UST scoreless for more than eight minutes in the fourth to preserve the heroism of Evan Nelle, who put out his best game yet after finishing with 25 points.
“We were three men down. Everyone pulled together and it’s a team effort,” Nelle said.
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