by Karlitos Brian Decena
Defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles flirted with disaster, letting University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons fight tooth-and-nail in the first half before pulling away with a 73-58 win in the 74th UAAP Thursday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
After scoring just four points in the first two quarters, Ateneo’s seven-foot behemoth Greg Slaughter bulldozed his way into the paint in the second half against the helpless UP big men to register 18 points
and 18 rebounds to lift the Blue Eagles to a flawless 12-0 slate and move two games closer to a rare sweep in the eliminations.
Ateneo forward Nico Salva also collected 16 markers, six rebounds and two blocks, while Justin Chua also pumped in 11 points and 10 boards.
“We actually struggled with UP,” Ateneo coach Norman Black said. “Every team will just play on you hard because we’re the number one team.”
Meanwhile, Maroons forward Mike Silungan, who has been struggling with his outside shooting in the past games, hit 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while center Mark Juruena chipped in 12 points and four rebounds for the Maroons, who now falls to a 2-10 win-loss record.
“It feels good to start making it (shots), but it was not enough,” said Silungan, who missed 16 consecutive triples in his last two games before finally nailing one in the second quarter.
The Maroons played with relentless defense at the start of the game, with big men Juruena, Paolo Romero and Carlo Gomez taking turns in clogging the paint to defend Slaughter in the post and Miggy Maniego putting a clamp on guard Kiefer Ravena to hold the two Ateneo stars scoreless and stay close with the defending champions after the first quarter, 14-15.
UP continued its solid showing in the second quarter, as Silungan and Gomez conspired in a 10-3 run to gain the Maroons’ biggest lead of the game, 28-22, at the 2:48 mark of the period. But Ateneo came back to life, as they answered a 10-0 spurt to end the first half with a 32-28 cushion.
Ateneo dominated the whole game since the second quarter, as Slaughter finally got his rhythm and took advantage of the smaller UP defenders to score 10 points in the third quarter and widen the Blue Eagles’ gap to seven, 52 – 45.
Ateneo then exploded a 21-4 bomb in the fourth quarter, with their largest lead ballooning to 24 points, 73-49, capped by reserve guard Juami Tiongson’s trey at the 1:42 mark of the period.
Meanwhile, tension flared in the closing moments of the game as UP coach Ricky Dandan was slapped by a technical foul due to continuous complaining to the referees. But the temperamental coach defended himself, saying he should not be the one called for the technical.
“I was not the one complaining and they warned me,” Dandan said. “I asked the referee why I was being warned and they called me for a technical.”