Eagles overpower Tigers, zero in on crown.
ATENEO hardly missed a beat even with the long lay-off before the Finals.
Thirdy Ravena sizzled with 32 points as the Blue Eagles outplayed University of Santo Tomas, 91-77, to move on the cusp of completing a perfect season in the UAAP men's basketball tournament last night before 19,176 fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Unbeaten in 15 matches, Ateneo showed no signs of rust after a long 16-day break, leading by as much as 23 points to seize a 1-0 series lead.
"I'm a big believer in preparation," said Eagles coach Tab Baldwin.
Ateneo hopes to become the first team in history to go 16-0 in the season with another victory in Game 2 slated at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Aware that the Growling Tigers will not just roll over and die after hurdling three step-ladder semifinal matches, the Blue Eagles need to elevate their performance several notches higher to achieve their ultimate goal.
"This is a must-win game for us. We know we are in for another tough game on Wednesday," said Baldwin.
"Teams that Aldin coaches they never quit, they never back down," he added.
Meanwhile, UST's women's team followed the men's squad in the Finals as the Tigresses eliminated Far Eastern University, 76-65, in the step-ladder semifinals.
Making its first championship appearance since a Peque Tan-mentored squad won it all in 2006, UST will face six-peat National University in the best-of-three series at 12 noon on Wednesday.
Ivorian Ange Kouame had a double-double effort of 18 points and 12 rebounds while SJ Belangel scored all of his 12 points from beyond the arc for Ateneo, which never trailed in the 40-minute clash
The Eagles closed out the first half with 13-1 run with Belangel nailing three triples after the Tigers were able to move closer to within 38-41 behind rookie spitfire Mark Nonoy.
Ateneo ran out of the gates strongly and posted its biggest lead of the first half, 36-17 lead after Ravena scored on transition at the 7:49 mark of the second period.
"We played bad, we played really bad," said UST coach Aldin Ayo.
Nonoy was the only Tiger who came to play with 26 points in his first Finals game.
"Mark Nonoy’s obviously a problem. He played a tremendous game. That’s very courageous. I got a lot of respect for that," said Baldwin.
Grace Irebu, a two-time season MVP winner, powered the second-ranked Tigresses with 28 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks, while Lon Rivero chipped in 13 points and five boards.
"We waited for three years for this to happen," said UST coach Haydee Ong.
The Tigresses last ruled the tournament in 2006 behind Marichu Bacaro and Rem Buenacosa under coach Peque Tan.
Despite squandering a 22-point first half lead, Congolese Irebu would not be denied.
"This game was very important for us," said Irebu.
First Game (Women)
UST (76) -- Irebu 28, Rivera 13, Soriano 11, Portillo 8, Tacatac 6, Ferrer 4, Panti 4, Callangan 2, Gandalla 0, Gonzales 0, Javier 0.
FEU (65) -- Mamaril 23, Bahuyan 12, Jumuad 11, Castro 9, Quiapo 6, Antiola 2, Vidal 2, Abat 0, Adriano 0, Bastatas 0, Delos Santos 0, Pacia 0.
Quarterscores: 14-11, 43-21, 59-45, 76-65
Second Game (Men)
Ateneo (91) - Ravena 32, Kouame 18, Belangel 12, Mamuyac 9, Navarro 6, Nieto Mi. 5, Nieto Ma. 5, Wong 3, Daves 2, Andrade 0, Go 0, Maagdenberg 0, Mallillin 0.
UST (77) - Nonoy 26, Paraiso 14, Chabi Yo 13, Subido 8, Cansino 4, Abando 3, Concepcion 3, Ando 2, Bataller 2, Huang 2.
Quarterscores: 32-17, 54-39, 76-58, 91-77