MANILA, Philippines – Ateneo tinkered with its starting lineup but still got the ending it wanted.
Flexing their championship mettle anew, the Blue Eagles overpowered bitter rival La Salle Green Archers, 71-62, to clinch the Final Four bonus in the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball tournament at the Araneta Coliseum on Sunday, November 11.
Thirdy Ravena surprisingly came off the bench but still wound up leading the defending champions with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The Blue Eagles kept hold of the top spot at 11-2 and nailed the coveted twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
But at the same time, Ateneo helped second-placer Adamson (10-3) nab the incentive as well as third-running La Salle slipped to 8-5.
The Archers, too, aren't exactly out of the woods as UP (7-6) and FEU (7-6) are still hot on their heels for the last two Final Four spots.
Ravena had a rare bench role but it hardly mattered as he keyed the Blue Eagles’ fourth-quarter breakaway and extended Ateneo’s lead to 9 with a layup off the nifty spin, 67-58, at the 3:09 mark.
After going cold due to foul trouble in the first half, Angelo Kouame still managed 11 markers and 10 boards with 2 steals in just 20 minutes.
Raffy Verano also had 9 points and 6 rebounds for the the Blue Eagles, who likewise demolished the Green Archers, 71-55, in the first round.
“It was a very tough game for us, especially defensively and offensively, but like coach Tab (Baldwin) said, you have to step up no matter what, you have to give your best,” said Kouame.
Aljun Melecio paced La Salle with 13 points, 7 boards and 3 assists. Justine Baltazar and Santi Santillan each grabbed 8 boards and added 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Taane Samuel also made his long-awaited return from injury and chipped in 8 markers and 3 boards in 17 minutes off the bench.
Ateneo 71 – Ravena 14, Kouame 11, Verano 9, Navarro 7, Nieto Mi 7, Nieto Ma 6, Tio 5, Mamuyac 5, Asistio 3, Go 3, Daves 1, Mendoza 0, Wong 0.
La Salle 62 – Melecio 13, Baltazar 12, Santillan 10, Caracut 8, Samuel 8, Manuel 5, Montalbo 2, Bates 2, Serrano 2, Go 0.
Quarters: 18-22, 35-35, 54-50, 71-62.