DEFENDING two-time champion Ateneo remained unbeaten yesterday, lucky to escape the upset axe wielded by University of Santo Tomas.
Proving steadier down the stretch, the Blue Eagles carved out a 71-70 cliffhanger of a win over the hard-fighting Growling Tigers to gain the solo lead in the 82nd UAAP basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Six-foot-10 Angelo Kouame of Ivory Coast scored on a putback that gave Ateneo a 68-67 cushion at the 3:40 mark of the fourth quarter. He also came up big on the defensive end, blocking UST’s Soulemane Chabi Yo’s jumper in the final 20 seconds.
Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto canned three free throws that made it a 71-67 game, only 3.9 ticks left. The Tigers’ Renzo Subido a last-gasp three-pointer at the buzzer for the final count.
Ravena showed the way for the Eagles with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and two assists while Kouame chipped in 11 markers and 10 boards.
Gian Mamuyac also had 10 points as Ateneo improved to 3-0 and handed UST its first loss for a 2-1 card.
The Eagles were coming off an 81-69 thumping of La Salle last Sept. 8 while the Tigers failed to score a fitting follow-up to their 85-69 shocker over University of the Philippines last Sept. 7.
In the other game, La Salle averted what could have been a huge meltdown and edged hard-luck National University 83-82.
Kurt Lojera, a transferee from Adamson University, hit a dagger of a jumper from the baseline with 19.4 seconds remaining that proved to be the winning basket.
Shaun Ildefonso still had the chance to win the game for the Bulldogs but his triple try missed its mark at the buzzer.
Justine Baltazar wound up with a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds while Jamie Malonzo and Aljun Melecio had 14 and 10 markers, respectively.
Lojera finished with six points for the Green Archers, who evened their record to 1-1. NU fell to 0-2.
While elated with the victory, Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin also gave credit to UST.
“We understood that game was going to be a really tough game. I feel fortunate we won the game.
That’s the kind of game that you can credit the team as much as you want, talk about character, and all of that, but I think that every applaud you give your team, you give the other,” said Baldwin.
“That could have gone either way,” he added.
The Eagles trailed 33-37 at the half and 53-56 going into the payoff period.
Chabi Yo was the lone bright spot for the Tigers with 25 points.
The nail-biting win made up for La Salle’s 69-81 defeat to arch-rival Ateneo last Sept. 8.
The Bulldogs failed to rebound from their similarly painful 83-84 loss to Adamson in overtime last Sept. 7.
“It showed in the last quarter na we were rattled good thing we were able to push through,” said Archers coach Gian Nazario.
“Kurt (Lojera) was able to make a jumper on the short corner. And just like what we always say from here, we just want to get better. It was a good learning experience for us.”
La Salle took a 42-32 lead at the break and went into the final canto with a 67-57 edge.
The Archers seemed poised to score a runaway triumph after they took an 80-66 bulge at the 5:58 mark of the fourth but NU charged back behind a 16-1 run capped by a Shaun Ildefonso trey in the last 28.1.
Shaun Ildefonso paced the Bulldogs with 26 points while John Lloyd Clemente, JV Gallego, and Issa Gaye had 19, 12, and 11 points, respectively.