Eagles complete elims sweep

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    TOO strong.

    These words aptly describe defending two-time champion Ateneo this season. Why not?

    Boosted by a decisive second half push, the Blue Eagles fashioned an emphatic 86-64 victory over the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons yesterday and clinched an outright finals slot in the 82nd UAAP basketball tournament before a big crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.

    In front of 16,355 fans, 6-foot-10 Angelo Kouame of Ivory Coast led Ateneo’s onslaught with game-highs of 20 points and 12 rebounds, and two assists and five blocks, while SJ Belangel provided a huge effort as he wound up with 14 markers, three boards, and two dimes. Thirdy Ravena and William Navarro also tossed in 13 and 11 points, respectively, as the Eagles completed a 14-0 sweep of the elimination round.

    UP finished its elims campaign with a 9-5 card, armed with a twice-to-beat advantage, and will battle the winner of the Far Eastern University-University of Santo Tomas knockout match set on Nov. 6 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in the stepladder semifinals.

    In the other games, University of the East nipped National University 79-77, while La Salle drubbed Adamson University 89-63.

    With the runaway drubbing of the Maroons, a repeat of its 89-63 triumph in their first round clash last Sept. 29, Ateneo became only the third team in league history to sweep the elims.

    University of Santo Tomas first did the trick in 1993 and became outright champions followed by University of the East in 2007. After advancing straight to the Big Dance, the Red Warriors, however, lost to La Salle in the finals.

    “We understand that this is a significant accomplishment for a basketball team in a season.

    As you all know, the job isn’t done. This is the season before the season,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin.

    “It’s not gonna be very difficult for us to get our focus on the playoffs. We’ll be sharp,” he added.

    The Eagles fell 20-21 at the end of the first quarter but battled back behind a crippling 19-2 blitzkrieg that gave them a 45-32 spread at the half.

    Ateneo still enjoyed an imposing 65-44 bulge going into the payoff period and met little resistance from the suddenly-misfiring Maroons.

    A Matt Nieto triple stretched the difference to as high as 73-49 at the 7:45 mark of the fourth stanza.

    Kobe Paras paced UP with 13 points while reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie and Javi Gomez de Liano added 11 points apiece.

    Rey Suerte hit a three-pointer from the right corner that gave the Red Warriors a 74-72 buffer in the final 42.2 seconds of the fourth quarter.

    Bulldogs gunner Dave Ildefonso knotted the count at 74-all with a drive but Suerte answered with a floater that made it 76-74 with 20.1 seconds remaining.

    Dave Ildefonso missed on jumper that led to free throws by Suerte and Philip Manalang even as JV Gallego sank a triple that pulled NU to within 77-78. Manalang sealed the win with a split at the stripe, only 0.4 ticks left.

    Suerte capped his one-year stint with UE with 28 points while Senegalese center Alex Diakhite had a double-double of 17 markers and 12 rebounds.

    Manalang also contributed five points also in his final game for the Warriors.

    With the victory, UE finished its campaign with a 4-10 slate after going dead-last with a 1-13 mark last year.