The Ateneo Blue Eagles remain the only undefeated team in UAAP Season 80.
The hottest team in the league continued their impressive start with a 76-75 win over defending champions De La Salle Green Archers on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena. The Eagles now hold a pristine 7-0 record after the first round of eliminations.
The Blue Eagles were down 75-74 after Ben Mbala knocked down two clutch free throws with a minute remaining. After a foiled attempt by Thirdy Ravena, it looked like Ateneo was in deep water.
Luckily for Ateneo, Matt Nieto was able to steal the ball off an inbound pass from Kib Montalbo. Nieto was fouled and then trooped to the line where he hit two free throws that eventually gave the win for the Eagles.
“I was just relaxed. We’re always practicing, it’s the same free throws,” Nieto said. “I shot it like it’s just my normal routine. Buti naman nag-pay off ang mga practice.”
Nieto finished with a team-high 16 points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Anton Asistio caught fire early and finished with 14 points, including four triples.
“It was an Ateneo-La Salle game that a lot of people expected. Both teams played hard,” coach Sandy Arespacochaga shared. “There were times that La Salle looked like they wanted it more, especially in the second and third quarters. It became a grind in the fourth quarter, good thing we shot the ball well in the first quarter.That gave us the cushion that we needed.”
The Archers threatened the Eagles like no other team has had so far this season. After trailing as much as 14 points early, La Salle showed their championship pedigree and came roaring back. They eventually took the lead at the 3:15 mark of the final frame thanks to an Abu Tratter bucket. It was a back-and-forth affair till the very end for the two proud schools.
After Nieto’s two clutch free throws, La Salle still had a chance to come away with a victory with 3.9 seconds left on the clock. Mbala’s initial drive to the basket was stopped and a last second attempt by Kib Montalbo missed as the Eagles escaped.
Ricci Rivero was the leading scorer for the Green Archers with 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Mbala was limited to 18 points after averaging 33.5 points heading into the game. The reigning MVP also had 13 rebounds in a losing effort.
“Iba talaga pag Ateneo-La Salle. Makikita mo na wala gusto magpatalo,” shared Nieto. “Sinuwerte na lang kami sa last play, we followed Coach Tab’s defensive scheme and luckily naging successful.”
Ateneo and La Salle met in last season’s UAAP finals with the latter coming out victorious after two grinding games. This time around, the Eagles got the better of their rivals.
Ateneo leads the standings at 7-0 while La Salle is closely behind with a 5-2 record after the first round of eliminations.
ATENEO 76 – Nieto Ma 16, Asistio 14, Mendoza 10, Ravena 9, Verano 6, Go 4, Tolentino 4, Nieto Mi 4, Black 4, Mamuyac 3, Ikeh 2
DLSU 75 – Rivero R 19, Mbala 18, Go 11, Rivero P 8, Caracut 5, Paraiso 5, Tratter 4, Montalbo 3, Santillian 2, Gonzales 0
QUARTER SCORES: 28-16, 43-36, 63-62, 76-75