By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter
THE defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles are heading back to the finals of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines after topping the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 80-61, in their Final Four matchup on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Carrying a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals, the Eagles showed they had no intention of making use of it as they were dominant right from the opening tip and did not allow the Tamaraws to gain much traction in their attempts to come back.
The victory thrust Ateneo to its third straight finals appearance and an opportunity to win back-to-back titles.
Thirdy Ravena got the Ateneo offense to an electrifying start, going for back-to-back breakaway dunks to help the Eagles to an 8-0 lead in the first three minutes of the opening quarter.
It was a momentum that Ateneo would continue to ride on after to build a 17-9 advantage at the end of the first 10 minutes of the game.
FEU tried to get going to start the second quarter but Ateneo was quick to nip any rally in the bud.
With points coming from different directions, the Eagles soared to a 26-13 separation at the 6:14 mark of the canto.
Alec Stockton infused some life into the attack of the Tamaraws but with minimal success as Ateneo kept pounding on them.
When the opening half ended, the Eagles were ahead, 38-24.
Ateneo jump-started things in the third quarter with a 7-0 run to stretch its lead to 45-24 with two and a half minutes lapsing.
Play was momentarily halted when Stockton was assessed with a disqualifying foul on Ravena, who was sprawled on the floor after being hit with an elbow to the face.
Stockton was ejected from the contest with still 7:12 left in the quarter.
The Tamaraws saw only the proceedings get worse for them, as Ravena and the Eagles sped to a 31-point distance, 59-28, with a little under three minutes to play in the third.
They eventually trimmed their deficit to 23 points, 59-36, heading into the fourth quarter.
With its season on the line, FEU scrambled at the start of the payoff quarter led by its bench.
Ateneo though answered everything that the Tamaraws threw at them.
The score was at 72-45 for the Eagles with five minutes remaining.
FEU still showed fight the rest of the way but could not complete a comeback as they made their way to the exit.
Ravena led Ateneo with 22 points with Ange Kouame finishing with a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Barkley Ebona paced FEU with nine points with Ronnel Ramirez and Prince Orizu adding seven points each.
“We knew entering the game that we are up against a tough team in FEU which was coming off two great games. At the start of the game we really wanted to be locked in defensively. We got to a good start and just sustained it,” said Ateneo deputy Sandy Arespacochaga speaking on behalf of coach Tab Baldwin in the postgame press conference.
Ateneo now awaits the winner between the Adamson Soaring Falcons and University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in the other semifinal pairing.
The UAAP Finals begin on Dec. 1.