By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
IT WAS “mission accomplished” for the Ateneo Blue Eagles as a year-long thrust to better themselves resulted in the team ascending to the top of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball for Season 80 when the smoke cleared.
A year since losing to erstwhile champions De La Salle Green Archers in the finals in Season 79, the Katipunan-based Eagles soared back as champions after they defeated their rivals in their best-of-three finals series, 2-1, on the strength of their 88-86 victory in the winner-take-all Game Three last Sunday.
The title was the ninth for Ateneo in the UAAP, good for joint fourth all time with its conquered foe, and first after five years.
While admitting to not having thought of winning it all this season after losing in the finals last year, Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga said they welcome the championship for it was the fruit of the tremendous effort that everybody in the team put in for improvement.
“We did not know if we will be coming back to this stage in Season 80. After last season where we lost in the finals to La Salle, our emphasis immediately was for us to improve both individually and as team,” Mr. Arespacochaga shared to a group of sportswriters after their title-clinching win.
“Our goal was not to enter the finals right away but if we did, it would be a result of us improving ourselves. And this season our players really showed that. It took a lot of effort from them to adjust to what we want to accomplish. We’re very happy of what they have become,” the Ateneo deputy coach added.
In winning the title in Season 80, Ateneo banked on a total team effort to seal the victory.
Thirdy Ravena led the Eagles with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists in Game Three en route to winning the finals most valuable player award.
Guard Matt Nieto finished with 14 points while graduating big man Chibueze Ikeh had a double-double of 12 points and 13 boards and Anton Asistio 11 points.
Vince Tolentino had nine markers and Isaac Go, who drained a big three-pointer with 24 seconds to go, finished with seven points.
“That was a tough game. La Salle did not give up and credit to them. It is what it is. I can’t say enough. I’m happy for the team and the community,” said Ravena in the postgame interview.
As for winning finals MVP, Ravena gave credit, too, to the entire team.
“The team deserves the MVP award. I’m just doing my job as well as the other players. Everybody really put time and effort in this and congratulations to everybody,” he said.
The same “collective effort” also stood out for Go, who established himself as one of the clutch players in Season 80 of the UAAP with the way he responded to pressure situations with big plays.
“The team is clutch not only me. One shot does not make a win. It’s a combination of everything. It’s a total team effort,” Go said.
Now back on top, Nieto could not help but look back with amazement and pride at the journey they had to the title.
“It’s mission accomplished. God is good. We went through a lot to get to this point. This was our dream and we did it,” said Nieto with a smile on his face.