During the bonfire to celebrate the Ateneo Blue Eagle’s fifth title last year, Ryan Buenafe was asked a question about the chances of the Ateneo in season 73. Considering the fact that the three stalwarts who engineered the two season dominance of the Blue Eagles have already graduated, Ryan said only one thing but with utmost confidence “ Basta alam ko next year Three – Peat tayo!” Everyone laughed but Ryan just gave out his usual smile and partied all night long. Come season 73 Ryan started out flat but his conditioning eventually caught up in the second round and his best game came out in the final game of the season. Ryan made true his promise as he scored 23 points to lead the Ateneo Blue Eagles to a third straight championship as they beat the favored Far Eastern University Tamaraws 65 – 62 in game 2 of the finals of the UAAP’s 73rd season.
Ryan Buenafe played back up all season long to most of his team mates but was there to play his usual all around game if needed. In the most important game for the team in Blue and White, Buenafe came up big scoring ten points in the fourth quarter and scoring when it mattered the most. The Eagles were up 59- 56 when he scored off Smart Gilas forward JR Cawaling on a drive , fake and score move to give the Eagles a five point cushion. The Tamaraws had a chance to tie the game when Paul Sanga was fouled by Frank Golla from the three point area with FEU trailing by only three 61-58. Unfortunately, the graduating forward sank only two of the three free throws. In the ensuing play, Buenafe capped off his game long brilliance with a gem of a three pointer with off Carl Cruz. When Ryan hit that shot, three fourths of the Araneta coliseum went into frenzy and everyone was signaling the three peat sign.
The Tamaraws actually started the game strong with Riel Cervantes and Paul Sanga, the two non performers in the first game came up with a driving lay up and a three pointer. Ateneo would counter with a Ryan Buenafe lay up and from thereon it was total dominance by the Tamaraws whose intensity gave them a commanding 22 – 13 first quarter lead. The Blue Eagles would regroup and limit the Tamaraws to only four points in nearly 8 minutes as Frank Golla’s free throws gave the Blue Eagles a slim 27-26 lead. The most important thing that they have accomplished in that run was that the Blue Eagles once again showed their merciless defense and team game.
The third quarter, the Blue Eagles finally caught up with the Tamaraws and even took the lead 50- 46. The game has become a see-saw battle with neither team leading by more than four points as the Eagles threatened to blow the game open but got a strong resistance from the Tamaraws. The quarter would end with the Eagles ahead by two. In the fourth quarter defense became tighter for both teams as the Blue Eagles shut down the highly touted guard duo of the Tamaraws once again. Buenafe scored 10 fourth quarter points to add up to his season high and lead the Blue Eagles to victory.
The theme of this year’s UAAP is Heroes and the Ateneo has found lots of them in this year’s team. Nico Salva for the first round of the season, Emman Monfort in the Adamson games, Frank Golla came out as a hard-nosed defender and a solid rebounder, Kirk Long’s shooting has finally come to play, Ryan Buenafe’s brilliance was shown in big games and the last hero to come out was JP Erram whose defense showed that the UAAP will have a slew of shot blockers next year. The biggest hero is the Ateneo community which will be celebrating their first three-peat in the UAAP. The Ateneo is the only team that has a three peat in both the UAAP and in the NCAA, this is the 20th Seniors basketball title of the Blue Eagles. Also, this is the first time that a school has won double championships for three straight years, a rare feat in both the NCAA and UAAP. Congratulations to the Ateneo Blue Eagles – we are already looking forward to next year.
Buenafe 23, Monfort 10, Salva 9, Long 7, Chua 7, Salamat 3, Golla 3, Escueta 2, Austria 1, Erram 0, Gonzaga 0, De Chavez 0.
Cervantes 15, Sanga 13, Ramos 9, Cawaling 8, Noundou 6, Garcia 6, Romeo 2, Exciminiano 2, Bringas 1, Cruz 0, Guerrero 0.
Quarterscores: 13-22, 30-31, 52-50, 65-62.