Ateneo destroys NU, captures top seed in Final Four

ATENEO de Manila will be the top seeds heading into this year’s Final Four.

The Blue Eagles found National University an easier prey than they did last season after an 83-58 triumph to formally secure their twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinal round of the 71st UAAP men’s basketball tournament last August 30, 2008 at the Philsports Arena.

Ateneo masterfully executed its game plan against NU in the early goings, sprinting to an 18-5 first quarter advantage.

The Blue Eagles, though, evoked memories of their bitter defeat against the same Bulldogs quintet last season that cost them the twice-to-beat cushion. They squandered a 16-point first quarter lead and found themselves trailing by one, 31-32, inside the four-minute mark of the second period.

But the perimeter troika of Chris Tiu, Jai Reyes and Eric Salamat conspired for one big play after another to turn a close encounter into a full-blown rout.

Tiu completed a three-point play, Reyes knocked in a triple and Salamat scored a breakaway bucket at the halftime buzzer as Ateneo posted a 49-37 lead after the first 20 minutes of action.

Ateneo continued its solid showing for the rest of the second half. A Salamat basket put the Blue and White up by 15, 65-50 with 8:14 in the fourth period. Norman Black’s wards even extended the advantage to 21 points on six straight points by Rabeh Al-Hussaini, the last of which came in the 5:14 mark of the final quarter.

The Katipunan outfit managed to keep its cool for the duration of the game as well. In the early part of the first quarter, NU center Raymond Aguilar was meted an unsportsmanlike foul after elbowing Ryan Buenafe in a loose-ball situation. Edwin Asoro was then assessed with the same foul in a play with Ateneo forward Nonoy Baclao, who was then warned by the officials for “trash-talking.”

Although the showdown against De La Salle will not be a no-bearing game for his squad, Black said he will use this game as a fitting way to prepare for the tougher battles in the Final Four.

“People will come there to watch and see how Ateneo and La Salle will fight it out,” said Black. “Every Ateneo-La Salle game is like a championship bout, so expect everything in that game.”

It will be an important game for La Salle as it is in the hunt for the last of the two twice-to-beat advantages in the semifinals.

“They’re going all out in our next game. But we need these kinds of games to sharpen us for the semifinals,” Black said.

Al-Hussaini paced the Blue Eagles with 20 points and six boards, while Tiu, Salamat and Reyes all scored in double-digits.

NU, meanwhile, which fell to 2-11, was bannered by Asoro’s 19 points.

The scores:

Ateneo 83 – Al-Hussaini 20, Tiu 16, Salamat 12, Reyes 11, Buenafe 9, Baclao 4, Nkemakolam 4, Long 3, Burke 2, Salva 2, Baldos 0, Chua 0, Escueta 0, Gonzaga 0.

NU 58 – Asoro 19, Galapon 7, Luy 7, Jahnke 6, Aguilar 4, Tungcul 4, Berry 3, Batac 2, Catamora 2, Garcia 2, Magat 2, dela Cruz 0, Ponferrada 0.

Quarter scores: 26-16; 49-37; 61-48; 83-58

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