By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE defending University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball champions Ateneo Blue Eagles made it back-to-back wins to start Season 82 after defeating rivals De La Salle Green Archers, 81-69, on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Winners in their season debut on opening day on Wednesday, the Eagles stayed unscathed by topping the Archers on the strength of a thorough attack, punctuated by a telling run in the second period where they created a wide gap that they were able to capitalize on the rest of the way.
Earlier in the day, the Far Eastern University Tamaraws bounced back following a loss in their season debut, beating the University of the Red Warriors, 81-65.
Ateneo and La Salle got their match to an action-packed start as both teams jostled to seize early control.
Veteran guard Matt Nieto took the cudgels for the Eagles with Jamie Malonzo countering for the Archers.
The teams had it close before the score settled at 23-21 and Ateneo on top after the opening 10 minutes.
La Salle tried to seize the lead at the start of the second quarter, coming to within a point, 29-28 in the opening minutes of the frame.
But Ateneo would steady its ship, re-establishing some distance, 38-29, by the four-minute mark.
It would continue to lord it over for the rest of the period, building a 22-point separation, 51-29, by the halftime break.
The Archers played with more direction to start the third canto, cutting their deficit to just 15 points, 57-42, with six minutes to go as Andrei Caracut and Aljun Melecio started to make their presence felt.
The Eagles, however, would stand firm, maintaining a safe distance of 16 points, 66-50, heading into the final quarter.
La Salle was undeterred though, starting the fourth quarter aggressively.
Led by Malonzo, Melecio and Enchong Serrano, the Archers cut their deficit to below 10 points, 71-62, at the 4:50 mark.
Gian Mamuyac gave the Eagles more breathing space, 73-62, off the break only to be answered by Justine Baltazar, 73-64, with less than four minutes to play.
The two teams went at back-and-forth after, fighting to a 77-67 count entering the last two minutes.
Joaqui Manuel pushed La Salle to within eight points, 77-69, with 1:20 to go.
Mamuyac answered back for Ateneo to make it a 10-point lead once again, 79-69, with less than a minute to play.
It proved to be the fatal for the Archers as they could not recover from it and saw the Eagles soar to the win.
Mike Nieto led Ateneo with 18 points while brother Matt had 15.
Mamuyac, meanwhile, finished with 14 points.
La Salle, for its part, was paced by Malonzo with 18 followed by Caracut with 14 and Baltazar 10.
“Credit to La Salle. It came out to fight in its first game and it showed that it will be a force this season. We just put in the effort especially defensively. But we still have to work on some things and be better. But we take the win,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin after their win.
TAMARAWS ROLL PAST WARRIORS
Meanwhile, FEU notched its first win in Season 82, beating UE that saw it dominating the latter from wire to wire.
Senior player Wendell Comboy led the Tamaraws in rolling past the Warriors, finishing with a career-high 24 points, boosted by a 6-of-9 shooting clip from beyond the arc.
LJay Gonzales also had a solid all-around game for FEU, tallying 14 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals.
For UE it was the duo of Alex Diakhite and Rey Suerte once again led the way, winding up with 21 and 17 points, respectively.
The Tamaraws get early traction in the contest and never took its foot on the gas pedal as they sped to the breakthrough victory that improved them to 1-1.
“It’s a great feeling to win your first game especially after an opening-day loss. It’s the first of hopefully many this season,” said FEU coach Olsen Racela after their win.
FEU next plays on Sept. 14 against Ateneo.
The Warriors (0-2), meanwhile, dropped to their second straight defeat under coach Bong Tan. They return on Sept. 11 versus the Adamson Soaring Falcons.