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Playing big: Rabeh keys Ateneo win in Game One

September 21, 2008 6:15pm
MANILA, Philippines – De La Salle did its best to contain Rabeh al-Hussaini.

At least, the Green Archers tried.

Al-Hussaini scored 31 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Ateneo to a 69-61 victory over De La Salle in Game One of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball finals Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.

Al-Hussaini, the frontrunner for league MVP honors, started slow, missing four of his first five shots. But once he got into his comfort zone, the Ateneo big man couldn’t be stopped.

"His game today answered those MVP questions," Ateneo coach Norman Black said.

Whether near the basket, on follow-ups, at the free-throw line, driving to the basket or shooting from mid-range, al-Hussaini, who tacked 12 points in the breakaway third quarter, put on an offensive clinic that no one from among De La Salle’s players could control.

But it took a while before the six-foot-seven center got into a rhythm in a game that saw 22,900 spectators pack the Big Dome.

The Eagles went on a 10-0 run—mostly on free throws—in the last three minutes of the first half to take a 36-29 lead.

Then al-Hussaini went to work. He scored on the post and on a drive to give the Ateneans a 40-29 lead at the start of the third quarter.

Later in the period, al-Hussaini converted on a follow-up to stretch the Eagles’ cushion to 51-37, the game’s biggest lead.

Al-Hussaini wound up shooting 14-of-26 from the field. Ryan Buenafe and Jai Reyes chipped in 12 points each. Buenafe also had 11 rebounds.

Ateneo won despite committing a season-high 23 turnovers and team leader Chris Tiu sitting out nearly half the entire game due to foul trouble. His first and only bucket came in the 3:25 mark of the fourth that made it 65-52.

In the back-and-forth first half, Buenafe stabilized a jittery Ateneo team that coughed 14 first-half turnovers.

The rookie phenom already had a full-game stat line with 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists, most of them coming in the first quarter where the Eagles' biggest lead was five (23-18).

JV Casio’s three-point play gave La Salle a 29-26 lead at the 2:58 mark of the second quarter before the Eagles countered with the 10-0 blast.

Casio finished with 20 points and Rico Maierhofer had 17 and 16 rebounds for the Green Archers who were an atrocious three-of-19 from three-point range and 20-of-70 overall from the field.

The victory was Ateneo’s 10th straight overall.

The Eagles will go for their third UAAP championship in Game Two on Thursday. – GMANews.TV
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