MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE)—The Ateneo Blue Eagles are headed to the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball finals.
The defending champions completed a 14-game sweep of the elimination round on Wednesday, after dismantling University of the Philippines, 86-64, in front of a jampacked crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Ateneo has now won 24 straight games dating back to last season, and this latest victory propelled them automatically to the best-of-3 title series.
This marks the first time that a team has swept the elimination round since University of the East pulled off the feat in Season 70. The Red Warriors went on to lose in the finals to the De La Salle Green Archers.
UP, already assured of the second seed and a twice-to-beat advantage, wrapped up the elimination round with a 9-5 win-loss slate.
"We understand that this is a significant accomplishment for our basketball team this season. But you know, as you all know, the job isn't done," said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin after the game.
"This is really the season before the season."
Ange Kouame led the way for the Blue Eagles with 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks, while SJ Belangel was the spark off the bench with 14 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. Will Navarro made all 6 of his field goals en route to 13 points, while Thirdy Ravena had 11 markers and 5 assists.
The Fighting Maroons kept in step with Ateneo in the early goings, even leading at the end of the opening frame, 21-20. They were still ahead, 25-24, after two charities by Janjan Jaboneta off an unsportsmanlike foul by Isaac Go with 8:10 left in the second quarter.
Ateneo, however, responded in scintillating fashion. They uncorked a blistering 19-2 run to break the game wide open, with Belangel leading the way. The sophomore guard scored the first seven points of the run to give the lead back to Ateneo, and Kouame and Navarro put the finishing touches in the rally.
By the time the dust settled, Ateneo had taken a 43-27 lead against UP. They would take a 45-32 advantage at the half, and kept pouring it on in the second half. Their advantage ballooned to 24 points, 73-49, off a Matt Nieto three-pointer with 7:46 to go.
Some late buckets by Kobe Paras and Juan Gomez de Liano gave the Maroons hope, but Ateneo had answers for every time they inched closer.
Paras finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists, while Bright Akhuetie and Javi Gomez de Liano each contributed 11 markers. UP, however, shot only 33.33% from the field, and were out-rebounded 46-38.
Ateneo, meanwhile, connected on 53.13% on their attempts, and had 22 assists on 34 made field goals in the game.
"Our job is far from done, and it's going to get harder," said Baldwin. "But at this point, I can say I'm very proud of these men, and I know they will not take it as any sort of sign to relax."
The other semifinalists are set to battle in a stepladder format to determine the Blue Eagles' opponent, beginning on November 6 when No. 3 Far Eastern U battles No. 4 University of Santo Tomas. The winner of that match advances to play twice-to-beat UP.
ATENEO 86 -- Kouame 20, Belangel 14, Navarro 13, Ravena 11, Go 7, Ma. Nieto 7, Mamuyac 5, Tio 4, Maagdenberg 3, Mi. Nieto 2, Andrade 0, Chiu 0, Daves 0, Mallillin 0, Wong 0.
UP 64 -- Paras 13, Akhuetie 11, Ja. Gomez de Liano 11, Ju. Gomez de Liano 9, Tungcab 5, Jaboneta 4, Rivero 4, Manzo 2, Murrell 2, Webb 2, Mantilla 1, Prado 0, Spencer 0.
Quarterscores: 20-21, 45-32, 65-44, 86-64
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