By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
NEEDING just one victory to notch another University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball title, the defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles go for the closeout when they reengage the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in Game Two of their best-of-three finals series today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Claimed Game One with a gutsy 88-79 victory over the Maroons, the Eagles look to build on it so as to bag their second straight UAAP championship and 10th overall. Doing so would allow Ateneo to break a tie with rivals De La Salle Green Archers for joint fourth place in the all-time championship haul with nine titles.
In claiming the series-opener, Ateneo relied on a solid attack down the stretch, led by veteran Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena, to outsteady finals-returning UP and claim the series lead.
Nieto finished with 27 points while Ravena had a near-triple double of 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
“We just made sure we were up there defensively. But we still have some lapses and things to improve on. We will look at them for us to come up with a good game plan for Wednesday. We will look at the tapes,” said Ateneo deputy coach Sandy Arespacochaga following their Game One victory as he spoke of what did it for them in Game One and what is in store for them heading into today’s game.
For Ravena, it will be the same mindset for them as they seek to close out the Maroons in today’s game.
“As Coach Tab [Baldwin] said, people think we do things differently for situations like this. Actually it’s the same preparation for us, working hard in practice and watching tapes. That is what got us here so we won’t change that,” said Ravena.
Both Mr. Arespacochaga and Ravena said they expect the atmosphere in Game Two to be as frenzied as the first game, which was witnessed live by 21,608 people.
They hope their supporters would come out anew and rally behind them as they go for the clincher.
NOT GIVING UP
On the side of UP, despite falling in the first game it is still believes that it would be able to bounce back and extend the series to a winner-take-all.
“For a first-timer in the finals I have to appreciate the kind of effort that my boys had shown. If there is one takeaway that we can get from this and think about, that is, it is possible to beat Ateneo,” said Mr. Perasol in the postgame press conference following Game One.
Guard Jun Manzo led the Maroons with 19 points while Juan Gomez De Liano had 17 in the first game.
Javi Gomez De Liano had 11 points while Bright Akhuetie, who momentarily left the game after hyperextending his left knee, finished with 10 points.
UP captain Paul Desiderio, meanwhile, struggled for five points on two-of-six from the field.
“We are still positive of our chances. We still need to do some preparation which we did not have in the last few days but I’m sure we’ll be better come Wednesday,” Mr. Perasol said.
Game Two of the finals is set for 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live over ABS-CBN S+A.