DEFENDING champion Ateneo weathered a stirring La Salle second half fightback to fashion out an 81-69 win and gain a share of first place in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament last night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Green Archers rallied from 22 points down, but the Blue Eagles were able to emerge unscathed behind the fourth quarter heroics of Gian Mamuyac.
“It was a difficult Ateneo-La Salle game. It was tough every step of the way,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin after the first match-up between the league’s fiercest bitter rivals this season.
“Overall, defense was tough and aggressive. We covered a lot of mistakes with effort. Having (Ange) Kouame out there makes defense very tough,” he added.
Ivorian center Koaume had five blocks, one more than the entire Archers squad as the Eagles posted their second straight win in the young season.
Brothers Matt and Mike Nieto combined for 33 points but it was Mamuyac who proved to be the main difference for the Eagles, scoring eight of his 14 points in the fourth period to help Ateneo pull through.
Earlier, Wendell Comboy scattered 24 points in a reserve role while Ljay Gonzales flirted on a triple-double with 14 points, eight assists and eight rebounds as Far Eastern University entered the win column with an 81-65 tripping of University of the East.
After newcomer Jamie Malonzo kept the game close for La Salle in the first 10 minutes of play, Ateneo, with the Nietos leading the charge, outscored its opponents, 28-8, in the second period to erect a commanding 51-29 halftime lead.
Despite the loss, Baldwin knows the Archers are one of the major contenders in the Eagles throne.
“They really came to play. They will be a force to reckon with this year,” said Baldwin.
Malonzo, who played his junior and senior season with Portland State University before bringing his wares for La Salle in his only UAAP season, debuted with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Parading a young team this season, the Tamaraws are determined to grind it out in every game, especially with the tough competition.
“Kung kulang kami sa skill, we make up through hardwork and effort. And I think today’s game is an example for that,” said FEU coach Olsen Racela.
The Tamaraws opened a 10-0 run in the first two minutes of the payoff period to erect a 68-51 advantage and never looked back.
“Well, it’s always nice to get your first win of the season especially coming off that opening day loss,” said Racela, referring to FEU’s 55-61 defeat suffered from the hands of University of the Philippines last Wednesday.
Senegal’s Alex Diakhite had 21 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks while Rey Suerte also tallied a double-double with 17 points and 10 boards for the Red Warriors, who now sit at the bottom of the standings with a 0-2 card.
The Tamaraws’ backcourt did the most damage, dominating their University Belt rivals, 55-14.
“Tradition naman na guard-heavy ang FEU. We always rely on our guards and this season is no different,” said Racela.
In the women’s division, Alyssa Villamor came through with 20 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals as Ateneo nipped La Salle, 92-90, to level with titleholder NU for the early lead at 2-0.
Clare Castro had 20 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks while Choy Bahuyan tossed in 16 points to lead FEU past UE, 70-59, for its first win.
FEU (81) — Comboy 24, Gonzales 14, Tchuente 9, Eboña 7, Cani 7, Torres 6, Tuffin 5, Bienes 5, Stockton 2, Alforque 2, Celzo 0, Bayquin 0.
UE (65) — Diakhite 21, Suerte 17, Abanto 8, Manalang 8, Mendoza 4, Sawat 3, Pagsanjan 2, Apacible 2, Cruz 0, Tolentino 0, Camacho 0, Beltran 0, Antiporda 0.
Quarterscores: 17-10, 34-25, 58-51, 81-65
Ateneo (81) - Nieto Mi 18, Nieto Ma 15, Mamuyac 14, Navarro 8, Andrade 6, Kouame 6, Ravena 6, Tio 4, Belangel 2, Go 2, Daves 0, Maagdenberg 0.
DLSU (69) - Malonzo 18, Caracut 14, Baltazar 10, Serrano 8, Melecio 7, Lojera 6, Manuel 6, Bartlett 0, Bates 0, Cagulangan 0, Cu 0, Hill 0, Meeker 0, Pado 0.
Quarterscores: 23-21, 51-29, 66-50, 81-69