The main thing University of the Philippines (UP) gained from its stunning upset of Ateneo recently was the confidence that the Maroons could handle the Blue Eagles in the championship.
Now, if only UP can actually get there.
La Salle’s on-target Green Archers threatened to ruin a highly anticipated showdown for the title after they forced the Maroons to cash in their twice-to-beat chip with an 83-80 victory on Wednesday in the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball tournament semifinals at Mall of Asia Arena.
“I think we played strong for 40 minutes; that’s what I was asking [of the Archers],” said La Salle coach Derick Pumaren. “It was a total team effort.”
La Salle’s victory sent its half of the Final Four to a deciding match on Friday.
Still a superpower
The winner advances to play in the Finals against the defending champions.
And make no mistake about it, Ateneo is still very much a league superpower that would not be denied of a fifth straight championship appearance.
Far Eastern University (FEU) found that out the hard way later in the night.
Sizing up the Tamaraws’ run-and-gun style just for a few minutes, the Eagles very quickly swooped in with the same systematic, multitiered attack that produced 39 straight victories and three consecutive collegiate titles, hardly showing signs of having that streak stopped recently and cracks in their armor exposed.
Positives from a loss
“Psychologically speaking, we handled it extremely well,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin following their 85-72 conquest of the Tamaraws.
“[The loss to UP] has tremendous amount of positive things, too, and that’s what we focused on with the only game that mattered (against FEU). Now we are in pursuit of the championship,” added Baldwin of their 16th Finals appearance.
The Maroons looked like a worthy obstacle to that pursuit after a stunning victory over the Eagles. Now, they might not even be speed bumps after the Archers rose to the occasion behind guard Evan Nelle.
“We managed to dictate the pace and set the tempo,” said Nelle, a La Salle rookie who however has experience in big moments after playing in the NCAA Finals for San Beda.
“We really took control and that’s what I had in mind,” added Nelle, who had a career-high 26 points to lead La Salle, which lost its two games against UP in the elimination round.
FEU started strong and scored the first six points of the game, before holding Ateneo down to a deadlock at 16 at the end of the first period.
But Chris Koon converted a three-point play for a 22-18 lead that swelled from then on. The Eagles scored 33 points in the second quarter alone, matching the Tamaraws’ output for the half that ended at 49-33.
“I [give it] to my ball handlers who handled the pressure and my big men who released the pressure; they are such intelligent, receptive players,” said Baldwin.
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