By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles swept the opening round of University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 82 with an 89-63 win over the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Found themselves in an early bind, the Eagles collectively made the necessary adjustments on both ends from the second quarter forward to outsprint the Maroons and chalk up win number seven to remain undefeated in the ongoing tournament.
Earlier in the day, the University of the East Red Warriors staved off finishing last in the standing at the end of the first round after beating the National University Bulldogs, 78-72, in their battle of tail-ending teams.
Guard Matt Nieto got the Ateneo offense going early in the first quarter, notching eight of his team’s 12 points in the first five minutes and helping his team to a 12-7 lead.
UP though would find their bearing on the lead of Juan Gomez De Liano and Kobe Paras, tying the count at 15-all with two minutes to go, and eventually taking a six-point advantage, 21-15, at the end of the first.
The Eagles got the momentum to start the second quarter, opening with a 6-2 run in the first two minutes to come within a deuce, 23-21.
They reclaimed the lead, 24-23, after a triple by Ange Kouame with five minutes remaining.
Ateneo picked up from there as it build a 35-31 advantage at the halftime break.
In the third quarter the Eagles were on fire, outscoring the Maroons, 10-1, to stretch their lead to 13 points. 45-32, with 7:26 to go.
Making matters for UP, it saw big man Bright Akhuetie sit down at the eight-minute mark after getting his third foul and a technical that merited another personal foul, giving him four for the game at the point.
Aggravating things, Maroons coach Bo Perasol was ejected with 6:23 remaining after excessive complaining to the referees over what he perceived to be non-calls.
UP tried to steady its ship but Ateneo was not to relent and stayed in control, 61-46, heading into the fourth quarter.
Sensing the game was slipping from their hands, the Maroons made a last-ditch effort to make a comeback with guard Jun Manzo leading the charge.
Their effort had little success though as Will Navarro and the rest of the Eagles stood their ground, holding a 20-point cushion, 73-53, with five minutes remaining.
With the win pretty much in the bag, the Eagles just stayed the course and eventually went for the closeout and the win.
Five players scored in double digits for Ateneo in the win, led by Kouame with 19 points to go along with 15 rebounds and seven blocks.
Nieto had 18 points while Navarro and Thirdy Ravena added 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Backup guard SJ Belangel, meanwhile, had 11 points for Ateneo.
For UP it was Paras who top-scored with 15 points, followed by Javi Gomez de Liano with 14 and Manzo 12.
The Ateneo-UP match attracted 19,861 spectators at the Big Dome.