THE BLUE Eagles on Saturday got payback on rival and reigning champion UP with a 75-67 win. — UAAP MEDIA

CLINCHING a twice-to-beat bonus in the Final Four is not the end goal for Ateneo as it eyes to go all the way with a top-seed finish at the close of the UAAP Season 85 elimination round to shore up its title redemption bid.

The Blue Eagles on Saturday got payback on rival and reigning champion University of the Philippines (UP) with a 75-67 win that put them in a good position to snatch the No. 1 spot after all entering the semifinals.

Ateneo, the former three-time champion, is now at 10-3 after that big win and another triumph against Adamson in its last assignment on Wednesday would push them ahead after playing catch-up to UP (11-3) all season long.

“I still think UP is the team to beat. But I think we showed that we belong at, or near the top,” said coach Tab Baldwin as Ateneo finally scored on UP in the last four matches including the historic Season 84 finals and a close 76-71 overtime loss in the first round.

“It’s a huge affair on Wednesday (against Adamson). It allows us to finish on top of the table and I don’t think many people would have expected that at the beginning or in the middle of the season,” he added.

In the majority of the elimination round, the shaky Ateneo side was actually lurking at just third place behind UP and National University (NU) before peaking at the right time with now the league’s longest streak at five games.

Ateneo’s timely rise paired with the unfortunate skid NU, which kept a stranglehold of No. 2 for then a steady twice-to-beat bid before losing two straight set the stage for the former to squeak in on top with a perfect shot to strike the No. 1 seed.

UP, the top-ranked team all season long, already clinched the other semis incentive as early as last week and a sure Top-2 finish regardless of the results of the last playdate on Wednesday featuring Ateneo against Adamson and De La Salle versus Santo Tomas.

Huge implications are also at stake for Adamson University (7-6) and De La Salle (6-7) in the crucial matches to determine the winner of the last and fourth ticket to the Final Four or a necessary knockout match by virtue of tie for No. 4. — John Bryan Ulanday