ATENEO staved off whatever University of the Philippines (UP) had both from its arsenal and spirit and scored a 75-68 victory in Game 3 on Monday night to win the Season 85 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball crown before another sellout crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
UP was out to make history by winning back-to-back UAAP crowns on the same year—and its third in the league that saw two seasons overlap as a consequence of the pandemic—but Ateneo was prepared and stopped their cross Katipunan neighbors’ effort to pull off a dramatic victory.
“Those guys. Those guys right there, those people right there, and the support of the Ateneo people worldwide. A great start to the game, a great first half, and we weathered the storm,” Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin said.
It was Ateneo’s 12th championship and its fourth in the last five seasons, making the Blue Eagles the most dominant team in this genre.
Down by 12 points midway through the fourth quarter, Fighting Maroons Malick Diouf, Henry Galinato and James Spencer made seven straight points Spencer capped with a three-pointer to make it 62-67 with a little over two minutes left.
But Ange Kouame followed up Chris Koon’s missed layup and was fouled in the process. He swished the bonus for a brand new eight point lead, 70-62, 1:48 to go.
Carl Tamayo then split his charities on the other end before both sides exchanged misses in their offensive thrusts.
Harold Alarcon was fouled from downtown after that. He made the first, missed the second and purposely flunked the third, grabbed the offensive board, ran to the left corner and made a triple to cut UP deficit’s to 67-70 with 20 seconds to go.
The Fighting Maroons fouled BJ Andrade but the senior sniper made both free throws to put the Blue Eagles back up by five with 12.3 seconds remaining.
Off a timeout, Alarcon launched from deep but missed as Sean Quitevis sealed the game with a conversion from the line.
Kouame finished his Ateneo career with 19 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. He averaged 17.66 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in the series and was named Finals MVP.
“This means a lot to me because nobody believed in us, even if we didn’t believe in us in the start,” said the 6-foot-11 naturalized Filipino Kouame said. “But Coach Tab is the man and we just followed his lead.”
“I’m so far from the forefront of this championship. It’s about these players. I’m just so grateful for their effort. I’m the lucky guy,” Baldwin said.
Gomez had 12 points on three triples, Forthsky Padrigao also got 12 points and Andrade rounded 10 points for Ateneo.
Besides Kouame, Andrade and Dave Ildefonso have played their last game for the Blue Eagles, and so did UP’s Galinato, Brix Ramos and Zavier Lucero.
Spencer topscored for UP with 14 points while Alarcon and Galinato made 12 points apiece with six and seven rebounds, respectively.
Tamayo was held to just 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field with nine rebounds to his name.
Lucero, who missed the game because of a knee injury he sustained in Game Two, was given the send-off he deserved by UP. He was brought in for a technical free throw with 0.7 seconds left in the game.