Ateneo scored a fitting payback to archrival La Salle on Saturday night and, in the process, earned a big reward.
The Blue Eagles completely turned the tables around the erstwhile invincible Green Archers, pulling off an impressive 83-71 victory while clinching the third Final Four berth in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tourney at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Guards Matt Nieto, Anton Asistio and Aaron Black took turns in providing the needed goods while rookie Isaac Go and his fellow big Ateneo men alternately put the clamps down on La Salle’s prized import Ben Mbala on the way to essaying arguably the biggest stunner in the season so far.
Aside from avenging a numbing 81-97 loss in their initial encounter with La Salle last Oct. 2, Ateneo racked up its third straight win and seventh overall in 11 matches, firming up its grip on third spot behind defending champion Far Eastern U (8-2).
More importantly, the Blue Eagles also foiled the possible 14-game sweep as they dealt the Green Archers their first loss in 13 matches.
Looking sharper coming from a near two-week break, Ateneo kept La Salle in check with its defensive stance then started to take control in the second frame where Asistio, Black and Mike Nieto made their presence felt, leading by as many as 10 points.
A two-handed dunk by Mbala, his first made field goal, at the 7:41 mark of the third canto pulled the Green Archers within 43-46, putting the relatively pro-La Salle crowd up on its feet.
But just when the Green Archers were plotting a big fightback, the Blue Eagles kept their poise under duress as they unloaded a blistering 15-5 run and took an 11-point lead at the end of third.
Ateneo sustained its force behind the 6-foot-8 Go, who scored back-to-back layups for a 70-55 cushion, making La Salle pay for its several defensive lapses. – Jerome Lagunzad
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