Ateneo accomplished a milestone obscured by the way it has dominated the UAAP over the last two seasons. On Thursday, the Blue Eagles neatly wrapped up the No. 1 spot in Season 84’s men basketball tournament.
Not that anyone was asking—or even wondering.
With the way they churned out wins, Ateneo has been likened to an indestructible super machine all season. But Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin reminded everyone that behind that humming efficiency, the Eagles are still a bunch of “young guys who play the game that they love.”
Not even Far Eastern University’s (FEU) 6-1 start to the game at Mall of Asia Arena could forge a sliver of doubt that Ateneo would wind up the top seed heading into the Final Four phase of the tournament.
And it’s certainly going to take a whole lot for anyone to believe the Eagles will cradle this season’s trophy all the way to Katipunan.
They racked up win No. 13 and need just one more victory to sweep the classification phase, clinch an outright Finals berth and plunge the other three semifinalists into a stepladder series.
Overall, the Eagles have won 39 consecutive matches, having absorbed their last defeat at the hands of the Tamaraws themselves back in 2018. There would be no repeat of that loss as Dave Ildefonso and Tyler Tio flung back-to-back three-pointers to make it a 15-9 Ateneo advantage that only grew bigger as the game progressed.
“I have to say off the bat they defended us tough,” said Baldwin, who described the match as a “very physical game” worth a second look from league officials.
It was the Eagles defense, however, that was unforgiving, limiting FEU to a season-worst 25 percent shooting throughout the game. The Tamaraws also struggled from the three-point lane, making only five of 23 attempts from beyond the arc.
“Unfortunately for them, they didn’t make shots, some days are like that,” added Baldwin, whose team will be No. 1 regardless of the result of its last game, against sure second placer University of the Philippines.
Earlier, La Salle secured an outright pass to the next round after a 64-51 victory over Adamson.
The Archers nailed their eighth victory in 13 games with a lot of help from explosive Fil-Am guards Deschon Winston and Kurt Lojera.
Winston scored 19 points, while Lojera added 10 for La Salle, which cuffed the Falcons’ only legitimate scoring threat, Jerom Lastimosa. The 6-foot guard could only score 11 points.
“Our immediately goal [after a two-game losing spell] was to work our way up,” said La Salle coach Derick Pumaren. “It’s tough. But it’s not over yet. We can’t be too happy that we made it to the Final Four. We don’t stop here, we want to go on and win.”
Adamson managed to stay abreast with La Salle in the early going, ending the first half at 43-all until the Archers applied their defensive press that threw off the Falcons’ flight.
In the first game, National University (NU) resumed its attempt to make the next round by beating University of the East, 100-81. Enzo Joson and Shaun Ildefonso scored 15 and 12 points, respectively, in the Bulldogs’ sixth win in 13 matches.
The Bulldogs and the Tamaraws are now tied at fourth place with only one more game left for each in the eliminations. FEU has a foot inside the Final Four, though. The Tamaraws face University of Santo Tomas in their last game, while NU has to battle La Salle.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.