MANILA, Philippines—Ateneo coach Norman Black gave a warning: “They (University of the East) sneaked up on La Salle and they could do the same thing to us.”
His thoughts almost came true as the Blue Eagles needed to survive the Red Warriors, 74-70, in the 74th UAAP men’s basketball tournament Thursday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The four-peat seeking Ateneo, which already assured itself of a Final Four spot and boosted its outright Finals bid, squandered a 72-64 lead it built 42.2 ticks left.
“I give a lot of credit to UE, they played us tough and physical,” commended Black. “Luckily for us, we were able to win despite our low energy.”
With the win, Ateneo set the UAAP record with its 13th straight Final Four appearance.
The Red Warriors, who are fresh off their stunning win against La Salle, surprisingly stuck within striking distance with the Blue Eagles all-game long.
The game was virtually over in the final minute before John Noble and Paul Zamar nailed back to back triples that breathed life to UE, which pulled to within 70-72, with 19.3 seconds remaining.
Ateneo, though, with the seven-foot Greg Slaughter and top rookie Kiefer Ravena in its fold, just proved to be too much too handle as it hiked its unbeaten mark to 10-0.
Slaughter notched his fifth double-double of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds to go along with two blocks.
“In the end we really had to utilize the talents of Greg Slaughter and tried to break them down,” said Black.
Ravena added 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out five assists.
Eman Monfort, who iced the game with two free throws, also played an all around game with 13 markers, six boards and six assists.
Zamar, arguably one of the most underrated players this season, pumped in 15 points on top of four rebounds and six assists.
UE led 37-33 at the half.