DEFENDING champion De La Salle University’s road to another title got off to a wrong start, thanks to its archrivals from Katipunan.
Ateneo de Manila, already assured of the top spot and the first twice-to-beat incentive in the Final Four, played with a purpose and gave the Green Archers a sound beating, 65-57 to relegate its nemesis to a virtual best-of-three tiff against Far Eastern University in the Final Four of the 71st UAAP men’s basketball tournament last September 6, 2008 at the Araneta Coliseum.
As a result, the Archers will have to take on the Tamaraws at least two more times if they are to secure their place in this year’s finals.
In front of nearly 22,200 fans, the Blue Eagles did not play like a squad content with their standing. Instead, they were relentless from the opening tip, racing to a 16-4 lead in the first quarter.
The Eagles managed to ground DLSU chief gunner JV Casio, who struggled all game and missed all but two of his 16 field goal attempts. The usually cool and steady guard failed to catch fire, due in part to a seemingly slippery pair of shoes and more so the stingy defense put up by coach Norman Black’s wards.
Ateneo continued to pummel the Green Archers in the third period, where it posted a game-high 15-point edge, 54-39, on back-to-back baskets by Eric Salamat inside the two-minute mark. Watching the Archers execute their offense seemed like an eye sore for the Green and White faithful.
However, DLSU coach Franz Pumaren, who returned from Iran after steering the Nokia Pilipinas Youth basketball team to a respectable 7th place in the FIBA Asia Junior Championships, begged to differ.
“Ateneo played good defense, no question about it,” said Pumaren. “It was a tight game until Ateneo tightened up its screws and we couldn’t find ways to crack that defense. But we’ll be back and we should concentrate now on our next game against FEU.”
Eagles slotman Rabeh Al-Hussaini shone once more, scoring 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead his unit to a 13-1 elimination round record, the highest Ateneo has ever posted since notching the same slate in 1987.
“The game has no bearing for us but we wanted to win it for the Ateneo community. Our defense bailed us out in the end,” said Black, whose team will face the University of the East Red Warriors in the semis.
The Green Archers moved closer to 33-36 thanks to a Simon Atkins three-pointer. But Al-Hussaini and Nonoy Baclao joined forces to lead a Blue Eagle breakaway.
The last time La Salle threatened was at 57-62, after Rico Maierhofer banged in a trey. But Ateneo countered with Baclao scoring on an impressive undergoal stab off Maierhofer to extend the Eagles’ edge to 64-57, with 2:28 remaining.
Baclao contributed 11 markers, six boards and four blocks while Jai Reyes added 10 markers for the three-time UAAP champions.
Maierhofer was the lone bright spot for La Salle, chipping in 16 points and hauling down 10 rebounds.
Ateneo 65 – Al-Hussaini 18, Baclao 11, Reyes 10, Tiu 9, Salamat 8, Baldos 4, Escueta 3, Buenafe 2, Austria 0, Burke 0, Salva 0.
De La Salle 57 – Maierhofer 16, Atkins 9, Barua 8, Malabes 7, Casio 5, Mangahas 4, Villanueva 4, Ferdinand 2, Walsham 2, Bagatsing 0, Revilla 0, Webb 0.
Quarter scores: 21-12; 36-28; 54-41; 65-57
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