The dream finals is on.
Ateneo de Manila University banked on Isaac Go’s triple to send the game in overtime and Matt Nieto delivered the knockout punches in extra session as the Blue Eagles avoided a major collapse, pulling off an 88-84 thriller over Far Eastern University (FEU) in their do-or-die Final Four match on Wednesday in Season 80 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Go notched a three-pointer to send the game in overtime, 75-all, while Nieto had a crucial 5-0 swing in extra inning that gave Ateneo the needed separation to set up the highly-anticipated championship duel with defending champion De La Salle University, which starts on Saturday also at the MOA Arena.
“We knew we’re up against a strong team. Credit FEU. They played well, they had a great game plan and the players stepped up for them,” said Blue Eagles chief deputy Sandy Arespacochaga.
“We’re not thinking we’re facing a 7-7 team and we’re ready to play a close game and that’s what happened. Credit the players for not giving up. There were ups and downs but they stick to the game plan and it showed the growth in their game,” he added.
Ateneo was one win away of reaching the finals but Go missed the potential game-winner against La Salle in its final game in elimination to surrender a 79-76 decision.
That put them in a Final Four encounter with the Tamaraws, who beat them in the first game, 80-67, and were on the brink of elimination after Jasper Parker hit two crucial free throws off Nieto, 75-72, 14.5 ticks left in regulation.
But Go had other plans in mind, drilling a huge triple in the next play to knot the score, 75-all, while former Ateneo forward Arvin Tolentino wasted the Tamaraws’ next possessions as he lost control of the ball while attempting for jumper.
Tolentino redeemed himself in overtime with a lay-up to give FEU its last taste of the lead, 80-79, 2:46 remaining.
After Chibueze Ikeh split his charities, 80-all, Nieto had a jumper and a triple to give Ateneo an 85-80 cushion with 46.9 ticks left.
“I thanked coach Sandy for giving me the confidence to shoot. He always tells me to keep on shooting,” said Nieto.
FEU refused to surrender as Richard Escoto hit a quick jumper, 82-85, but Go converted a difficult basket the next play—converting a basket while kneeling down—for an 87-82 lead with 22.4 seconds remaining.
The Tamaraws never recovered and saw their Cinderella run halted by the Blue Eagles, who will meet their chief rivals in the finals for the second straight time.
Thirdy Ravena led Ateneo with 17 points while Nieto and Ikeh each had 16 markers for the Loyola-based squad. Go chipped in 13 markers for the top seed squad.
Parked led all scorers with 19 points while Tolentino and Wendell Comboy netted 13 and 11 points, respectively for the Morayta-based squad which was one stop short of pulling off a monumental upset.
“We’re one stop away but this loss won’t define our season. I’m still proud of the players and the way we regrouped,” said FEU rookie mentor Olsen Racela.