TOKYO—Ateneo vs Radford University of the United States will happen after all. It just won’t be for the World University Basketball Series title.
A Hakuoh University squad that didn’t give up an inch on defense exposed all the kinks in Ateneo’s armor on Saturday and dethroned the Blue Eagles in an impressive manner, 78-53, to advance to the title game and give the host country something to cheer for.
The Soldiers forced the Eagles to critical scoring droughts in the final three periods and effectively took out Joseph Obasa from his sweet spot to carve out the win and march on to face the National Chengchi University Griffins of Taiwan for the crown Sunday.
After being held to a paltry seven points in the third frame, the Eagles, who won this event via a sweep last year, will now be left fighting for the crumbs at 3 p.m. also Sunday against the Highlanders, who also were brought down earlier.
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“To their (Soldiers’) credit, they really played good defense tonight,” Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin said minutes after the loss. “We also didn’t play that well, I just can’t point out why we were sort of out of focus.
“We just didn’t get into a rhythm.”
Ateneo trailed at the half for the first time, 35-33, after two scoring droughts in the second period left the reigning UAAP champion trailing by as many as five points at one stage.
The Eagles did manage to make it close heading back to the locker room thanks to two straight Gab Gomez triples—the second off the backboard.
After shooting 15 triples in an 88-50 destruction of the University of Sydney on Friday, the Eagles struggled to convert from afar and from the field for that matter, scoring just 33 points with their four triples in the first half coming from their point guards.
Hakuoh, which finished second to ousted Takao University in the local collegiate league, played splendid defense in the first half, disrupting the flow of the Ateneo offense as the Soldiers met the Eagles guards high and played pressing man-to-man.
Pesky on the defensive end and very deliberate on offense, the Griffins showed heavy favorite Radford the door after a 79-75 victory that set the tone of an upset-filled day.
The Griffins used a floating zone defense and got the goods from young swingmen Sung Hsin-Hao and Lin Tzu-Hao when the going got rough in the fourth period as the Taiwanese advanced to the title game first.
“It was total teamwork for us, especially on the defensive end,” Sung told reporters through a translator after draining critical buckets in the fourth, including a spectacular windmill layup that eluded 6-foot-10 Radford center Josiah Harris for 67-61 with 5:16 left.
The Griffins opened the second half trailing by four and were down by 11 points near the halfway mark of the third period before their defense clicked.
Led by a workhorse of a center in Mouhamed Mbaye, NCCU, which lost by a wide margin to the Eagles last year, methodically nibbled at that deficit and even led by 12 points late in regulation.
Only two late triples by the Highlanders made the final score close.
The title game is slated Sunday at 6:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. in Manila).
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