Defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles earned their first win of Season 81 by defeating the UP Fighting Maroons, on Wednesday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Thirdy Ravena had a solid double-double performance of 17 points and 11 rebounds and Anton Asistio chipped in with 16 points on an efficient 6-for-10 shooting clip.
"It's hard. It's really hard. What a game UP played," said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin. "We've said all along that were realizing the truth of it: it's gonna be a fight every time out and we'll have everybody's best."
The Blue Eagles suffered a stunning opening game loss at the hands of the Adamson Falcons last Sunday. It turned to be a humbling defeat for the title favorites and were determined to come out stronger in their next outing.
"But I'm happy with the fight that we had in us," Baldwin went on. "That was more evident than in our game against Adamson. Whether that was the wakeup call from Adamson or whether it's the realization that the UAAP is a different animal than what we're seeing than most of the summer and offseason, I guess it doesn't matter. Fact of the matter is, I thought our intensity today was more of a reflection as to where we want to be e but our execution is still lacking."
Unlike Ateneo, the Fighting Maroons were coming off a win last Saturday and were hoping to continue their winning ways. Juan Gomez De Liaño was on fire all-game long and finished with a career-high 29 points on 12-for-19 shooting, including four 3-pointers. Bright Akhuetie meanwhile nearly finished with a triple-double with eight points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists.
It was a back-and-forth affair for the two proud schools but things took an awful turn for UP when they lost their head coach. With 6:56 remaining in the game and UP trailing 73-62, coach Bo Perasol was unable to finish the game after he was called for a disqualifying foul for entering the court. Perasol was livid after getting a non-call on Bright Akhuetie's dunk attempt on Ateneo's William Navarro.
UP tried to draw inspiration from the departure of their coach and got as close as 77-72 under five minutes remaining. But the Blue Eagles had an answer for every run thrown at them. A basket by Ravena made it 85-74 in favor of the Blue Eagles under two minutes remaining, essentially sealing the win for Ateneo.
"That UP team is very good, aren't they?" commended Baldwin. "Juan Gomez de Liaño is a really good player."
"But I think that it's our defense is what carried us today," he added.
Ateneo and UP now own identical 1-1 records.
ATENEO 87 -- Ravena 17, Asistio 16, Kouame 14, Ma. Nieto 12, Mi. Nieto 7, Go 5, Mendoza 5, Wong 5, Verano 4, Black 2, Belangel 0, Navarro 0.
UP 79 -- Ju. Gomez de Liano 29, Desiderio 15, Manzo 9, Akhuetie 8, Ja. Gomez de Liano 5, Murrell 4, Dario 3, Gozum 2, Prado 2, Vito 2, Jaboneta 0, Lim 0, Spencer 0, Tungcab 0.
Quarters: 25-24, 46-43, 67-58, 87-79.
- UP reinforcement Bright Akhuetie celebrated his 22nd birthday on Wednesday and was two points shy away from a triple-double as he finished with eight points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists.
- Thirdy Ravena only had seven points in Ateneo's loss against Adamson but came back better with 17 points against UP.