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Ateneo completes sweep, advances to finals for fourth straight time

The Ateneo Blue Eagles advanced to the UAAP Season 82 men's basketball finals after completing an elimination round sweep following a masterful 86-64 beatdown of the UP Fighting Maroons Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The Blue Eagles flexed their championship form over the Fighting Maroons and booked their fourth straight trip to the finals in style, achieving a 14-0 sweep for the first time in school history. They now hold a 24-game winning streak dating back to last season.

"We understand that this is a significant accomplishment for a basketball team, to go through a season undefeated. But as you all know, the job isn't done. This is really the season before the season," said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin.

Angelo Kouame spearheaded the attack with 20 points and 12 rebounds. SJ Belangel also played a pivotal role off the bench, delivering a career-high 14 points in just 13 minutes of action.

Will Navarro had a perfect 6-for-6 shooting from the field to finish with 13 points, while Thirdy Ravena added 11 points and five assists to help in the victory.

The defending champions stole the momentum and broke away in the second quarter by unleashing a 19-2 run punctuated by a dunk from Kouame and a putback from Navarro. Belangel also had a scoring outburst in that stretch.

Kobe Paras stopped the bleeding for UP with a triple but Ateneo still came away with a 13-point cushion at halftime. The lead ballooned to 22 points late in the third period after Belangel's and-1 play.

Matt Nieto knocked down a booming 3 that made it a 24-point ballgame, 73-49, with over seven minutes left. The Blue Eagles kept their foot on the gas pedal and took care of the 20-point gap until the final buzzer.

Paras topped with 13 points and seven rebounds for the Fighting Maroons, who finished with a 9-5 record. Bright Akhuetie and Javi Gomez de LiaƱo added 11 points apiece.

The stepladder semifinals will start on November 6 with FEU and UST duking it out for the right to face second-seed UP in the next phase. This will give Ateneo at least a two-week break before the best-of-three championship series.

"It's not gonna be very difficult for us to get our focus on the playoffs and watch the stepladder take place and see who comes out of it," said Baldwin.

THE SCORES

ATENEO 86 -- Kouame 20, Belangel 14, Navarro 13, Ravena 11, Go 7, Ma. Nieto 7, Mamuyac 5, Tio 4, Maagdenberg 3, Mi. Nieto 2, Andrade 0, Chiu 0, Daves 0, Mallillin 0, Wong 0.

UP 64 -- Paras 13, Akhuetie 11, Ja. Gomez de Liano 11, Ju. Gomez de Liano 9, Tungcab 5, Jaboneta 4, Rivero 4, Manzo 2, Murrell 2, Webb 2, Mantilla 1, Prado 0, Spencer 0.

Quarters: 20-21, 45-32, 65-44, 86-64.

EXTRA DRIBBLES

-- The Blue Eagles came close to a sweep twice in the last eight years, going 13-0 before dropping its last elimination round game against Adamson (Season 74) and La Salle (Season 80).

-- Before Ateneo, the last team that completed a 14-0 sweep was UE back in 2007. The Red Warriors clinched an outright finals berth but lost to La Salle in the championship.

-- The Blue Eagles now have an 8-0 winning streak against the Fighting Maroons.