One of the keys to the Ateneo Blue Eagles' success is Angelo Kouame's ever-improving game.
Kouame's dominance was on full display in his first Ateneo-La Salle showdown on Saturday. He imposed his presence in the paint, finishing with 20 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks, and three steals to power the Blue Eagles to a 71-55 drubbing of the Green Archers.
"La Salle is a very tough team," the Ivorian big man said post-match. "Like the coaches said, we don't have to mind the crowd and stuff like that. Just be focused on the game."
Kouame heeded his coaches' call and remained focused on the task at hand. Even with Ateneo up huge in the final minute, he continued to do his job on both ends of the floor. He capped off his monster performance with a two-handed breakaway jam, which was made possible by his own steal on the other end.
"He's doing well and you could see his growth as an individual," said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga on Kouame's performance. "But also you could see how we're evolving as a team, utilizing each other's strengths and covering for our weaknesses."
Throughout his first six games in the UAAP, the 6-foot-10 rookie has shown that he's integrating well into coach Tab Baldwin's system. With averages of 11.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 3.8 blocks, he's definitely been a key cog in the Blue Eagles' hot 5-1 streak.
"With Ange, it's a huge thing because he brings a lot to the team's defensive presence and rebounding," said Ateneo veteran Thirdy Ravena. "As a player, he doesn't ask for the ball much. He just does his role and that's why we're successful right now. Everyone's buying into the system."
Against La Salle, Kouame owned the shaded area, making the opposing bigs and anyone who attempted to drive inside bleed for their points.
"One of the challenges that coach Tab posted to our big guys was recognizing that La Salle's strength is their frontline," said Arespacochaga. "So we actually wanted to make sure that we do our job defensively against them but also look for touches for our bigs also. I think our bigs played well."
With Justine Baltazar and Santi Santillan checked, the Green Archers struggled to execute their offense well, forcing Aljun Melecio to put matters into his own hands. Melecio was the lone double-digit scorer with 21 points but he had to operate out of the system and heave 18 shots to reach that number.
Meanwhile, the Blue Eagles worked together seamlessly, sharing the ball and helping each other find the open spots.
"One of [our] strengths, of course, is Ange's presence inside so I'm very happy to see him continue to evolve his game," added Arespacochaga. "Hopefully, he continues to improve, as well as Thirdy and all the other guys. I think that's key for us. Every game we really look forward to improving our game. That's been our thrust ever since before so it doesn't change."
Kouame has barely scratched the surface of what he can do. With him and the rest of the Blue Eagles continuously learning and evolving, the blue and white community has so much to look forward to.