Angelo Kouame showed the way in the endgame as defending champion Ateneo de Manila University evaded an early upset against the gritty University of Santo Tomas (UST), 71-70, for the solo lead in Season 82 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Ivorian big man Kouame poured nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter and came through with a crucial block on Beninese counterpart Soulemane Chabi Yo in the closing seconds to lift the Blue Eagles atop the eight-team standings with a perfect 3-0 record.
“This is the kind of game that you can credit your team as much as you want. You can talk about character, toughness and pulling it out in the crunch,” said Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, who also lauded UST’s spirited effort.
“But I think that every applaud that you give your team, the other team deserves exactly the same thing because the game could have gone either way,” added the veteran tactician.
Kouame completed a double-double with 10 rebounds to go with three blocks while seasoned forward Thirdy Ravena also tallied the same feat with 17 points and 10 boards.
Gian Mamuyac chipped in 10 points, four rebounds and two assists in the narrow win.
Ateneo clawed its way back from a 53-60 deficit early in the final frame. snatching a 68-67 lead on Kouame’s putback with 3:16 left in the game.
Kouame then swatted away Chabi Yo’s jumper in waning seconds before Ravena and Matt Nieto sealed the result from the free throw line.
Chabi Yo’s 25 points and 13 rebounds went for naught as the Growling Tigers tasted their first defeat after a two-win start.
In the second game, De La Salle University survived the hard-fighting National University, 83-82, behind Kurt Lojera’s game-winning jumper with 11 seconds remaining for a breakthrough win.
The rookie-laden Green Archers averted a late meltdown that saw them squander a 19-point lead in the second half.
“We got rattled. Good thing we pushed through,” said La Salle mentor Gian Nazario, who pointed his team’s inexperience for the late collapse.
Veteran big man Justine Baltazar drilled a double-double of 23 points and 10 boards even as prized recruit Jamie Malonzo pumped in 14 markers and 11 rebounds. Aljun Melecio added 10 points and Lojera contributed six markers.
Shaun Ildefonso had a game-high 26 points while John Lloyd Clemente had 19 markers but their efforts were not enough to save the Bulldogs from falling to 0-2.