The defending champions are once again marching on to the postseason.
The Ateneo Blue Eagles became the first team to clinch a UAAP Season 81 Final Four berth after making quick work of the NU Bulldogs, 79-64, Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Thirdy Ravena busted out 23 points, 12 rebounds, and found his shot from the outside with three triples. Angelo Kouame registered another double-double of 19 points and 17 boards while rookie SJ Belangel had the best game of his young career with 11 points.
"We did not know that we are already in the Final Four," pointed out coach Sandy Arespacochaga. "Our game plan was focusing on NU, not looking beyond this game."
And the Blue Eagles did focus hard on the struggling Bulldogs. They opened the game with guns blazing as they raced to a 10-0 start. The kept their foot on the gas pedal and erected a 22-point lead by halftime.
The Bulldogs, who have young and talented pieces, found their rhythm in the second half as the Blue Eagles cooled down. Led by an efficient 25-point performance from rookie John Lloyd Clemente, NU kept knocking on the door.
"That's the key point we've been stressing, that NU is a dangerous team," Arespacochaga mentioned. "We told the players during the break that NU will come back and that's what happened. Good thing, we were able to stave off their rally."
Defense was once again Ateneo's trump card, holding its opponent to just 33 percent shooting. The defending champions also forced 16 turnovers.
Dave Ildefonso added 13 points on 5-for-16 shooting and six rebounds for NU, now 3-7 in the standings.
Ateneo meanwhile continues to pace the league with a 9-2 record. The Blue Eagles have won their last four ball games.
ATENEO 79 - Ravena 23, Kouame 19, Belangel 11, Verano 7, Go 7, Tio 3, Black 3, Mendoza 2, Mamuyac 2, Daves 2, Asistio 0, Wong 0, Navarro 0, Andrade 0
NU 64 - Clemente 25, Ildefonso D 13, Ildefonso S 7, Diputado 5, Yu 5, Gaye 4, Joson 3, Rike 2, Gallego 0, Sinclair 0, Galinato 0, Morido 0, Malonzo 0
QUARTERS: 22-11, 47-25, 65-47, 79-64
- The Blue Eagles made it into the Final Four for the fifth straight season.
- Brothers Mike and Matt Nieto were in attendance but did not play.
Ateneo - Nov. 4 (Sun) vs Adamson Falcons at Ynares Antipolo
NU - Nov. 3 (Sat) vs UP Fighting Maroons at Ynares Antipolo