By Jerome Lagunzad
2 p.m. – NU vs UP
4 p.m. – Adamson vs FEU
Ateneo survives UP for 13th straight win.
Powerhouse Ateneo took the best that University of the Philippines could offer last night. Now, the Blue Eagles just need to hurdle one more stumbling block to reach a familiar destination.
Steady guard Matt Nieto and backup big man Isaac Go emerged as the unlikely sources of production down the stretch as Ateneo survived UP, 96-82, to move within a win from completing an elimination round sweep in the UAAP basketball tournament at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Nieto came up with a team-high 19 points as he and the 6-foot-7 Go combined for 14 points in the Blue Eagles’ rejuvenated offensive attack that enabled them to restore order before they pulled away from the fading Fighting Maroons in the final two minutes.
The victory, which came in the hardest way possible, extended Ateneo’s unbeaten start to 13 matches and primed it up for a much-awaited showdown with defending champion La Salle on Sunday.
A repeat victory will enable the Blue Eagles to clinch an outright berth to the best-of-three finals while set up a step-ladder semifinals stage for the Green Archers, third-seed Adamson Falcons and a still-to-be-determined member of the Final Four cast.
“We’re happy that the character of our players certainly showed,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, satisfied no end to see how the Blue Eagles thrive under immense pressure after trailing by as many as 12 points in the third canto.
“It was a tough game, a very challenging game. We were challenged from the start until the very end. We’re just happy that our players stepped up to the challenge and showed their character.”
Prized rookie Juan Gomez de Liaño sizzled with a game-best 21 points, spiked by three triples, while top gun Paul Desiderio and Jun Manzo combined for 29 points, 22 of them coming in the first half, but they struggled to deliver when UP needed them the most.
As a result, UP stayed at fifth spot with a 5-8 mark in a tie with National University which earlier stunned host Far Eastern University, 87-74, to keep the race for the remaining semifinals berth wide open.
NU 87 – Gaye 24, Alejandro 17, Joson 13, Mosqueda 8, Tibayan 7, Abatayo 6, Aquino 5, Diputado 4, Yu 2, Cauilan 1, Bartlett 0, Morido 0, Salem 0, Rangel 0, Lastimosa 0.
FEU 84 – Tolentino 21, Dennison 21, Comboy 16, Cani 14, Inigo 3, Tuffin 3, Ebona 2, Escoto 2, Orizu 2, Parker 0, Trinidad 0.
Quarters: 19-27, 39-47, 64-72, 87-84.
ATENEO 96 – Nieto Ma 19, Go 13, Mamuyac 13, Ravena 10, Tolentino 10, Nieto Mi 9, Verano 8, Ikeh 6, Asistio 4, Mendoza 4, Tio 0, Black 0.
UP 82 – Gomez de Liano Ju 21, Desiderio 16, Manzo 13, Dario 8, Gomez de Liano Ja 7, Lim 4, Ouattara 3, Jaboneta 3, Webb 2, Romero 2, Lao 2, Prado 1, Vito 0, Ricafort 0, Harris 0.
Quarters: 22-23, 42-48, 63-64, 96-82.
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