DEFENDING two-time champion Ateneo lost to Adamson University in their initial encounter last season.
Proving they have not forgotten, the Blue Eagles ripped the Soaring Falcons 70-52 yesterday to launch their three-peat bid in style as the 82nd UAAP basketball tournament got going at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Six-foot-10 Angelo Kouame of Ivory Coast notched a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds, and six blocks and three steals while Matt Nieto backed him up with 14 markers, two rebounds, and four assists. Thirdy Ravena also had 10 points, 13 boards, and four dimes for the Eagles.
In the other game, University of the Philippines nipped hard-fighting Far Eastern University 61-55 to jumpstart its title hunt.
Reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie scored on a hook shot that gave the Fighting Maroons a 57-55 buffer in the final 1:35 of the fourth.
Hubert Cani and Wendell Comboy both missed on their triple tries for the Tamaraws and Jun Manzo sank four free throws the rest of the way that sealed the hard-earned win for UP.
In the opening match of the tourney, University of Santo Tomas clobbered a drastically overhauled University of the East crew 95-82.
Rookie Rhenz Abando scored 22 points on 5-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc and grabbed four rebounds while 6-foot-6 Beninese high-flyer Soulemae Chabi added 19 and 12 for the Growling Tigers.
Brent Paraiso and Sherwin Concepcion also had 10 markers apiece for UST.
Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin admitted that despite the lopsided triumph, Adamson gave his team fits.
“It’s the last team I really wanted to see in the first game. I had my deja vu moments in the second half. I thought we did a really good job in Jerrick (Ahanmisi) and now we got to deal with this Valandre Chauca kid and he’s really tough,” said Baldwin.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” he added.
After taking a 32-23 edge at the half, a runaway victory seemed in the bag for the Eagles after they held a 48-26 bulge but the Falcons banked on a 19-2 blitz capped by a Lenda Douanga basket that pulled them to within 45-50 at the 7:09 mark of the fourth. But Ateneo refused to falter and countered with a 20-7 binge on its way to the big win.
Valandre Chauca, a transferee from Enderun College, was the lone bright spot for Adamson with 17 points.
Javier Gomez de Liano fired a team-best 22 points and pulled down six rebounds with Manzo and the 6-foot-8 Nigerian Akhuetie adding nine and seven markers, respectively for the Maroons, who wound up as runners-up to Ateneo last year.
Prized transferee Ricci Rivero finished with seven points in his UP debut while Kobe Paras, another key recruit, sat out the match due to a sprained right ankle.
“That’s the natural progression of what we want to happen. After getting into the finals, it’s just natural for us to aim for the championship and going all the way. With the way we played earlier, it’s not going to be easy,” said Maroons strategist Bo Peraosol.
“Even though we want to go through that kind of game, we know we can be better than that.”
UP raced to a fast start and took a 38-27 lead at the half.
FEU charged back and made it a 44-47 game entering the final canto.
Brandrey Bienes carried the fight for the Tams with nine points.
“It feels good to win your first game because it gives you confidence, boosts your morale, especially if you have nine newcomers,” said Tigers mentor Aldin Ayo.
“Kapag madaming baguhan na players, gusto mo right away in the first game lumabas ang laro ng mga bata para maka-set na ng tone.”
UST took a 51-39 lead and a 69-52 in the final 10 minutes,
The Red Warriors, now under new coach Bong Tang, who replaced Joe Silva last Sept. 3, trimmed the deficit to within 80-90 on a Harvey Pagsanjan three-point play but Mark Nonoy, another freshman, sank a triple that gave the Tigers a 93-80 advantage, only 1:33 remaining.
Former CESAFI MVP Rey Suerte led UE with 23 points while Senegalese center Alex Diakhite, Pagsanjan, and Jed Mendoza 20, 15, and 10, respectively.