MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles secured a spot in the Final Four after escaping the Letran Knights, 74-72, in a tense quarterfinal duel in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup on Thursday, June 28, at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
Matt Nieto played hero in the final stretch, burying back-to-back baskets to lift the Blue Eagles past the gritty Knights.
Far Eastern University likewise needed Hubert Cani to take charge in the final stretch to score an upset over La Salle.
The Final Four gets going Friday, June 29, with reigning UAAP champion Ateneo clashing with FEU and NCAA titlist Red Lions battling the Blazers also in San Juan.
Nieto weaved through a Letran defense to tie it at 72-72 before knocking in the game-winning basket in the last 5 seconds.
Nieto and his twin brother Mike both finished with 9 points to lead the Blue Eagles' balanced attack.
Fresh from their training camp in Greece, the Blue Eagles were understandably exhausted from the travel according to deputy coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
“We entered this game knowing our situation and we didn't want to make excuses,” he said.
Arespacochaga noted that the team’s stamina was tested against Letran’s good game plan.
"In the end, it’s a good thing that we were able to come up with stops and execute on the offensive end so I'd like to give credit to our players for digging deep especailly in the last 2 minutes,” he said.
Matt Nieto said their grueling schedule shouldn't be an excuse: “Sunod-sunod yung games pati sa Greece but yun yung napili namin, for the exposure and para makuha talaga namin yung system.”
(We also played consecutive games in Greece, but we wanted that for the exposure and for us to be familiar with the system.)
John Calvo chalked up 16 points on a 7/14 shooting and 4 rebounds to lead Letran, while Edison Batiller had 13 markers.
ATENEO (74) — Ma. Nieto 9, Mi. Nieto 9, Kouame 8, Asistio 6, Ravena 6, Wong 6, Navarro 5, Tio 5, Verano 5, Belangel 4, Go 4, White 3, Maagdenberg 2, Mendoza 2, Andrade 0, Black 0, Mamuyac 0.
LETRAN (72) — Calvo 16, Batiller 13, Fajarito 10, Muyang 10, Quinto 10, Celis 4, Agbong 2, Balagasay 2, Balanza 2, Yu 2, Ambohot 1, Mandreza 0, Taladua 0.
Quarter scores: 15-17, 30-35, 56-52, 74-72.
– Tonichi Regalado/Rappler.com