By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE Ateneo Blue Eagles made it back-to-back University Athletic Association of the Philippines titles after closing out the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, 99-81, in Game Two of their best-of-three Season 81 finals series on Wednesday at the jampacked Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Got early leverage at the beginning of the match, the Eagles just not relented the rest of the way, frustrating every attempt the Maroons made at coming back to complete the closeout.
The win handed Ateneo its 10th overall UAAP title and second straight while putting an end to what was a spirited campaign for Diliman-based UP.
The start of the game was delayed for a few minutes as Ateneo raised concerns on Bright Akhuetie playing with a metal brace as protection after hurting his left knee in Game One.
Eventually UP got suade to remove it and the contest got under way.
Thirdy Ravena got things going for the Eagles, all around once again to help his team to a 14-9 lead with four minutes to go in the opening quarter.
They would extend it to an eight-point cushion, 18-10, with two minutes on the clock, eventually settling for a 25-13 lead after the first 10 minutes.
In the second quarter, Juan Gomez De Liano and Paul Desiderio jump-started UP’s offense, pushing the Maroons to within six points, 28-22, in the first two and a half minutes.
But the Eagles would answer with a 5-0 run in the next minute to restore a double-digit lead, 33-22.
The two went back and forth after, fighting to a 48-37 count, with Ateneo still on top, by halftime.
Ateneo started the third canto on a flurry, creating a wider separation of 18 points, 59-41, by the 6:15 mark of the frame.
The Maroons fashioned comeback attempts but could only come within 13 points, the last time at 59-46 with 5:02 to go in the quarter.
Ateneo poured it on after, holding a 16-point lead, 70-54, heading into the payoff quarter.
Had firm control of the match, the Eagles went for the early kill, led by Tyler Tio and Ravena.
Ateneo’s lead ballooned to 22 points, 81-59, with 6:42 left.
Gomez De Liano tried to ignite a last-ditch run for UP but Ravena And Company would not allow them to have much headway.
The score was at 91-74 for Ateneo at the last two-minute mark and Ravena and the Eagles went for the finish from there.
Ravena had career-high and game-high 38 points to go along with six assists, five rebounds and three steals for Ateneo.
King Eagle Ravena also took finals most valuable player honors for averaging 29.5 points, eight rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.5 steals in two games.
Ange Kouame had a monster double-double of 22 points and 20 rebounds while Raffy Verano had 11 markers.
Gomez De Liano led UP with 24 points while Akhuetie had 19 points and eight boards.
Graduating Desiderio finished his UAAP career with 15 points.
“We’re happy to have been able to defend our title. We’re not here without God. We give everything back to him. Thanks to the players as well. It’s a privilege to have a chance to coach these guys,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin after their win.
The Eagles are now at solo fourth place in overall UAAP titles.
The finals defeat, meanwhile, ended a spirited season for UP which made it back to the UAAP Final Four after 32 years.
Game Two of the finals saw 23,471 in attendance.
Earlier in the day, winners of the top individual awards for the season were officially honored.
Akhuetie led all awardees by taking home the MVP award.
The UP big man, who averaged 18.9 points, 14.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals for the season, topped the race with 82.5 total statistical points.
Akhuetie also headed the mythical five selection, which included University of the East’s Alvin Pasaol (74.57 SPs), UP’s Gomez de Liano (63.86 SPs), La Salle’s Justine Baltazar (61.29 SPs) and Adamson’s Jerrick Ahanmisi (58.38 SPs).
Ateneo’s Kouame, who finished second in the MVP race with 76.21 SPs, bagged rookie of the year honors.
Kouame is not part of the mythical team as league rules only allow the top foreign player to enter the group.
Akhuetie followed Eric Altamirano, part of the last champion UP team in 1986, as UAAP MVP.
In women’s play, Malu Irebu of University of Santo Tomas bagged the MVP award.
Joining her in the mythical team were Clare Castro of Far Eastern University, Jack Animam of five-peat champion National University, Misaela Larosa of UST and Nathalie Prado of Adamson University.
Rookie of the Year was Reynalyn Ferrer of UST.