The Ateneo Blue Eagles advanced to the finals for the third straight year after dominating the FEU Tamaraws, 80-61, in the UAAP Season 81 Final Four showdown Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The defending champions locked down on defense from the get-go and remained aggressive until the end of the contest to notch a convincing win over the Tamaraws.
"We knew that coming into the game, we're up against a tough FEU team who just had two great wins against Adamson and against La Salle. So we wanted to make sure that from the start, especially on the defensive end, we're locked in," said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
Thirdy Ravena topped with 22 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals, despite fouling out late in the fourth quarter. He helped set the tone by leading the Blue Eagles to an 8-0 opening surge, including back-to-back dunks that pumped up the crowd.
Angelo Kouame also exploded early, scoring 12 of his 18 points in the first half, while delivering 11 boards and four blocks.
The Blue Eagles showed their championship form to build a 38-24 cushion at halftime. They opened the second half with a 22-4 rally, capped by a triple from Ravena, to extend the lead to 31 points. The Tamaraws closed the third period with eight unanswered points but the Blue Eagles continued to flex their muscles in the fourth frame.
"FEU is a tough team, that's why we had to make sure that our players were on top of their games regardless of the time and the score," said Arespacochaga. "They showed a lot of heart in their past games so we wanted to give them that due respect, and we didn't want to give them any openings or chances."
Because of Ateneo's suffocating defense, no player finished in double digits for FEU. Barkley Eboña emerged as the top scorer with nine points, followed by Prince Orizu and RJ Ramirez with seven apiece. Arvin Tolentino was limited to just five points.
ATENEO 80 - Ravena 22, Kouame 18, Verano 7, Nieto Ma 6, Go 6, Nieto Mi 5, Belangel 4, Mamuyac 3, Asistio 3, Mendoza 3, Black 2, Tio 1, Wong 0, Navarro 0, Daves 0, Andrade 0
FEU 61 - Ebona 9, Orizu 7, Ramirez 7, Gonzales 6, Inigo 5, Tolentino 5, Stockton 5, Tuffin 4, Parker 4, Escoto 4, Comboy 3, Cani 2, Bienes 0, Bayquin 0, Jopia 0, Nunag 0
QUARTER SCORES: 17-9, 38-24, 59-36, 80-61
- The last two Ateneo-FEU Final Four showdown extended to rubber matches that both went to overtime. The Blue Eagles made sure to finish it in one game this time.
- Five players played their final game for the Tamaraws: Arvin Tolentino, Axel Iñigo, Richard Escoto, Jasper Parker, and RJ Ramirez. Prince Orizu is still not sure about returning next season.
Finals Game 1 vs UP/Adamson on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena