ATENEO proved too much to an overachieving University of the Philippines side, 99-81, to annex its second straight UAAP men’s basketball championship last night before 23,471 fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Thirdy Ravena and young Ivorian center Ange Kouame led a third quarter breakaway as the flawless Blue Eagles erected a 66-48 advantage and never looked back to sweep the best-of-three series, 2-0.
Now the fourth winningest program with 10 crowns, Ateneo finished its back-to-back title run with 10 straight victories after a 5-2 first round which saw it take shock losses to Adamson and Far Eastern University.
True enough, the Eagles lived up to their lofty billing in a tournament the Katipunan-based cagers were supposed to dominate owing to their impressive off-season build-up which includes a fourth place finish in the Jones Cup.
Despite the Finals setback, the campaign was still worth remembering for the Maroons, who stunned the third-ranked Falcons in the Final Four to make it to the league’s biggest stage for the first time since 1986.
The large UP side at the Big Dome still celebrated its achievement which ended years of frustrations and disappointments.
Ravena fired a career-high 38 points to go with six rebounds, six assists and three steals before being replaced in the final 51.2 seconds while Kouame finished with 22 points and 20 rebounds for Ateneo.
The victory served as a grand send-off for the Eagles’ captain Anton Asistio, who capped his collegiate career as a champion.
Juan Gomez de Liaño paced the Maroons with 24 points and seven boards, Bright Akhuetie added 19 points and eight boards while graduating skipper Paul Desiderio scored 15 markers in his final collegiate game.
Already one hour behind schedule, the tip-off was further delayed for almost 10 minutes after Ateneo showed concerns regarding Akhuetie’s metal brace in his left knee that got injured in the Finals opener.
The league doctor initially allowed Akhuetie to wear the device. Eventually, Akhuetie was forced to remove the brace and the game finally got going.
The Eagles started again strong, racing to a 28-13 advantage on a Raffy Verano three-point play off a rookie SJ Belangel assist early in the second period.
UP countered with a 9-0 run to trim down the deficit to a 22-28 at the 7:16 mark of the second period before Ravena and Kouame combined forces to thwart their foes’ rallies late in the first half and preserve Ateneo’s double-digit lead at the break.
Ravena scored 17 in the first half alone, while Kouame already got a double-double after two quarters of play with 10 points and 14 boards.
After scoring only five points in the opener, Desiderio made nine in the first half. Juan Gomez de Liaño led the Maroons’ first half charge with 13 points while Akhuetie contributed 10 markers.
Earlier, Akhuetie, for powering the Maroons in making it past the eliminations for the first time since 1997, formally claimed the season MVP honors prior to Game 2.
The Nigerian slotman led the Mythical Five team along with University of the East’s Alvin Pasaol, UP’s Juan Gomez de Liaño, La Salle’s Justine Baltazar and Adamson’s Jerrick Ahanmisi.
Ateneo’s Kouame, who finished second behind Akhuetie in the MVP race but was not eligible due to a league rule that limited the Mythical Five to count for only one foreign player, was named the Rookie of the Year.
Ateneo (99) — Ravena 38, Kouame 22, Verano 11, Tio 7, Nieto Ma. 6, Asistio 6, Belangel 6, Go 3, Nieto Ma. 0, Mamuyac 0, Mendoza 0, Andrade 0, Black 0, Wong 0, Daves 0, Navarro 0.
UP (81) — Gomez de Liaño Ju. 24, Akhuetie 19, Desiderio 15, Gomez de Liaño Ja. 11, Dario 8, Lim 2, Vito 2, Manzo 0, Jaboneta 0, Murrell 0, Spencer 0, Prado 0, Española 0, Longa 0.
Quarterscores: 25-13, 48-37, 70-56, 99-81