Who says Chris Tiu needs to score big in order for Ateneo to win? What happens to Ateneo if Rabah Al-Husaini doesnt get his numbers? Well the answer came out today and the answer to that is that the Ateneo Blue Eagles will always find ways to defend, score and win! The Ateneo Blue Eagles struggled in the early going but nonetheless found their form as they barged into their fifth finals appearance this decade after a sunday massacre over the No. 4 seeded UE Red Warriors 70-50.
The win gave the Eagles another reason to smile as it gives them an opportunity toa avenge their 2007 loss to the other finalist, their archrivals and defending champions, the de La Salle Green Archers.
The UE Red Warriors started out strong by giving the Blue Eagles headaches in the first few plays. James Martinez scored on a floater, a three pointer and a steal off Jai Reyes to give the Warriors an early 11-7 lead. Chris Tiu missed his first four shots and had one turnover as the BLue Eagles started flat on his offensive drought. Jai Reyes on the other hand was oozing with confidence as he scored on two triples plus a jumper to breathe life to the Eagle's offense. Eric Salamat then came to the rescue as he teamed up with Jai Reyes to give excitement once again to the Blue Eagles as Salamat scored on a three pointer and then a fastbreak to fuel the Eagle's 10 - 0 blast. In a wink of an eye the quarter ended with the Blue Eagles up by six, 17-11.
The second quarter started with Eric Salamat continuing his defensive intensity and piling up points through his fastbreaks as the Eagles stymied the Warrior's offense and scored a bunch of points on their own. The Eagles forced the Warriors to nine turnovers and more importantly translated these turnovers to points. The Warriors were not moving the way they did when they almost upset the Blue Eagles two weeks ago and were slow to get down. The first five minutes saw the Warriors get Eleven possessions, 8 of which became turnovers, two of which became missed shots while in the only other possession, Elmer Espiritu converted two free throws. With that the Blue Eagles surged ahead to a 25-13 lead which they never relinquished. The Warriors suddenly got hot as Pari Llagas and Lucas Tagarda hit back to back three pointers to pull the UE squad to within eight 27-19. The Blue Eagles ended the quarter still leading 32-21 after committing 11 turnovers. The big difference was that the Blue Eagles capitalized on the turnovers of the Red Warriors while UE did not capitalize on Ateneo's miscues.
In the third quarter, the Eagles pounded the inside and held the Red Warriors to a measly 7 point quarter. Like what they say, the Eagles did not win because of their firepower, but because of their defense. Marcy Arellano could not get his game going as he went 0 for 6 on the field and 0 of 2 from the line, it just shows the frustrating defense of the Blue Eagles rubs on you even if you are taking free throws. Only Pari Llagas' drive and Elmer Espiritu's jumper and three pointer were the points scored by the Red Warriors. In contrast the Blue Eagles torched the Red Warriors with 17 third quarter points, five coming from Nonoy Baclao off two spectacular plays and four coming from Rabah Alhusaini. The Eagles scored 1a total of 19 points off the UE Turnovers while the Warriors only had four points off it.
The Eagles started the fourth quarter with an 8-2 run courtesy of the second three pointer by Nonoy Baclao of the season, after that he scored again on a putback off an Eric Salamat miss. Then the 'Baste Boys contributed two points each Ryan and Eric for the Ateneo and Paul Lee for UE via two free throws. With that the lead of the Blue Eagles was at its highest at 26 points 56-30! The Warriors never recovered and as Mr. Smith in the movie "the Matrix" would say, Ateneo's win was inevitable. In the end the rest of the Blue Eagles showed that they too can score as Chris Tiu was held to 2 points and was just content in dishing assists and making sure that his team mates would do the dirty laundry. In the end, its the win that matters which was the third largest margin in UAAP final four history. James Martinez led the Warriors with 13 points. It was the last game of Elmer Espiritu, Hans Thiele and Marcy Arellano for the Red Warriors.
The Ateneo vs. La salle Season 71 Finals will be the fourth finals between these two squads with the Blue Eagles enjoying a 2-1 edge and is also favored to win this finals series. The Eagles won in 1988 and 2002 while the Archers got the 2001 series. The BLue Eaglets on the other hand are out to regain the Juniors diadem as they beat the Adamson Jr Falcons for another finals appearance. The defending Juniors champs on the other hand, DLS-Z, was derailed by the FEU-FERN team. But i expect this one to be a Seniors and Juniors championship for both Ateneo and La Salle. The first of its kind so you better line up at the Araneta Center for tickets for Sunday's game. One Big Fight!
Reyes 13, Baclao 12, Salamat 11, Al-Husaini 10, Buenafe 9, Salva 5, Tiu 2, Escueta 2, Long 2, Sumalinog 2, Gonzaga 2, Baldos 0, Nkemakolam
Martinez 13, Espiritu 11, Llagas 8, Lee 8, Thiele 4, Tagarda 3, Zamar 3, Lingganay 0, Arellano 0
Quarter scores: 17-11, 32-21, 49-28, 70-50
Attendance is more than 21,200