Isaac Go saved Ateneo de Manila University many times during the Season 80 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament.
On Sunday, in the winner-take-all Game 3, Go, who was hardly a factor in the first two games, rescued the Blue Eagles once more as he delivered the most important shot of his young career to bring back the UAAP crown to Loyola.
The six-foot-seven center drilled a crucial three-pointer that foiled another De La Salle University comeback for a pulsating 88-86 win to reclaim the UAAP throne from their archrivals at the jam-packed Araneta Coliseum.
“We just wanted to run the pick and roll play. Coach Tab (Baldwin) just trusted all of us. The 10 months of hard word paid dividends,” said Go, who at one point had a difficult time to make it to the Ateneo roster.
“Coach just told us to be ready any moment and be ready to play and make the right play,” he added.
Baldwin finally got the crown that eluded him last year when La Salle swept them in the best-of-three series.
And though the revenge needed three games to happen, the American mentor lauded the support they got from the school and alumni to become the kings of UAAP hoops once more.
“One of the things we talked about is this community. We have to live up to be an Atenean everyday. That means living up to be the best of who we can be and this community inspires us simply the best we can be,” said Baldwin addressing the Blue Eagles crowd.
“Thanks to all of you for being an inspiration to this basketball team,” he added.
The Blue Eagles threatened to pull away after erecting an 80-70 lead on Vince Tolentino’s basket with 4:07 remaining in the game. The Green Archers responded with a 10-2 blitz capped by Andrei Caracut’s triple at the top of the key to move within two, 80-82, with 48.9 ticks left.
Caracut’s shot silenced the Ateneo crowd for a while. But it was no go, according to Go.
The third-year center, who also sank a crucial three-pointer in Ateneo’s Final Four win over Far Eastern University, received a pass from the driving Thirdy Ravena and hoisted a three-pointer against the outstretched arms of Kib Montalbo that swished the net for an 85-80 separation, with 24.7 seconds left.
Ricci Rivero muffed his own triple in La Salle’s next possession and Chibueze Ikeh forced a jumpball on Ben Mbala that proved to be crucial as Ateneo had the possession arrow.
Though Green Archers guard Aljun Melecio hit a triple after Matt Nieto’s split, 83-86, the former iced the game with two more bonus shots, sending half of more than 22,000 fans clad in blue in celebration.
It was Ateneo’s ninth title and first since 2012 to tie the Green Archers in the list.
Ravena, who was named the Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP), had 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists while Nieto chipped in 14 markers. Ikeh saved his best game in the series with 12 points and 13 rebounds, eight on the offensive end.
“I can’t describe what I’m feeling right now. La Salle gave us a tough fight. I’m proud of my team, my coaches and the community. It’s all for them,” said Ravena.
The two-time MVP Mbala finished with19 points and 14 boards but just like in the first two games of the series, foul trouble hounded him in Game 3.
Melecio contributed 16 while Ricci Rivero, who was slowed down again by foul trouble, had 14 but committed seven of the Green Archers’ 18 turnovers in the match.
This could be coach Aldin Ayo’s final game with La Salle as there are reports that the school is not inclined on bringing him back for Season 81. Ayo, if reports are true, is headed for the University of Santo Tomas.
ATENEO 88 — Ravena 17, Ma. Nieto 14, Ikeh 12, Asistio 11, Tolentino 9, Go 7, Verano 6, Mendoza 5, Black 4, Mamuyac 3, Mi. Nieto 0.
LA SALLE 86 — Mbala 19, Melecio 16, R. Rivero 14, Caracut 13, Santillan 11, Tratter 4, Go 3, Montalbo 3, P. Rivero 2, Tero 1, Baltazar 0.
Quarters: 24-14, 45-38, 66-66, 88-86.