MANILA, Philippines—Ateneo encountered stiff resistance before clinching the top spot in the Final Four of the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament with a gut-wrenching 66-61 win over Adamson on Wednesday night at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ange Kouame came to the rescue with a power move off a bungled three by Dave Ildefonso before BJ Andrade’s free throws sealed the win, Ateneo’s 11th overall at the close of the 14-game elimination phase.
The Blue Eagles wound up in a tie with the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, but earned the No. 1 seeding and the rewarding twice-to-beat advantage that goes with it after emerging with a better quotient over the Maroons.
Kai Ballungay paced Ateneo with 18 points, his back-to-back threes and Koume’s two-handed jam sparking a huge run that put them 11 points ahead at the start of the final quarter.
“We knew what this game meant for them, but we wanted it more,” said Balangay, who had three triples and grabbed 14 rebounds, eight of them offensive boards.
But the Falcons, dead serious in grabbing the last Final Four ticket, refused to just call it a night as Adrian Manlapaz poured 17 of his game-high 22 points in a dizzying chasedown of the Blue Eagles.
Cedrick Manzano pulled Adamson within a point with less than two minutes remaining before Kouame put order again for Ateneo by imposing himself in the paint in the absence of Lenda Douanga, who earlier sprained his right ankle.
“The Final Four is a whole new ballgame. Our endgame composure was good, but coach Tab (Baldwin) is not happy with the way we let go of the lead,” said Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
“For sure we’re going to look at that and analyze. We’re looking at the big picture and we don’t want that kind of letdown,” added Arespacochaga.
The Falcons closed out the second round in a tie with the La Salle Green Archers, forcing a playoff for both teams for the last and final slot in the Final Four on Sunday for the right to face the Blue Eagles, who again ended up as the No. 1 squad in the semis for the fifth straight season.
The Maroons likewise earned a win-only-once advantage over the third-ranked National University Bulldogs in the semifinals.
ATENEO 66 — Ballungay 18, Andrade 13, Kouame 12, Koon 7, Padrigao 6, Ildefonso 3, Gomez 3, Chiu 2, Lazaro 2, Garcia 0, Quitevis 0, Daves 0.
ADAMSON 61 — Manlapaz 22, Lastimosa 10, Douanga 7, Hanapi 5, Flowers 5, Manzano 4, Yerro 4, Sabandal 2, V. Magbuhos 2, Colonia 0, Jaymalin 0, Barasi 0, Fuentebella 0, Barcelona 0, Torres 0, W. Magbuhos 0.
Quarters: 17-16, 33-27, 49-41, 66-61.
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