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Ateneo beats rival La Salle, wins UAAP championship

September 25, 2008 6:33pm
MANILA, Philippines – The names of a handful of Ateneo players were being called one after the other to receive individual awards just minutes before game time Thursday.

A few hours later, the Eagles were being called for a trophy as one team.

Ateneo survived a determined La Salle team to win 62-51 and clinch the men’s basketball championship of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines at the Araneta Coliseum.

The Eagles looked to breeze through Game Two after taking a 41-26 halftime lead before La Salle, behind the hot sniping of fifth-year guard JV Casio, made it 50-47 going into the final quarter.

But stingy defense in the fourth, the trademark of this Ateneo team that lost only once in 16 games this season, helped the Eagles dethrone the defending champions.

It was Ateneo's fourth UAAP championship, second in the decade after winning in 2002 and first under four-year coach Norman Black.

“Coach Norman only had one advice for us through the course of the season," Ateneo point-guard Jai Reyes said. “Forget about everything, just play defense."

The 2008 Eagles may go down as one of the most dominant teams in UAAP history, going 13-1 in the eliminations and routing University of the East in the semifinals before sweeping rival La Salle.

Including their two games in the elimination round, the Eagles went four-of-four versus the Archers during the season, the first time the Loyola Heights school shut out its archnemesis.

As a testament to Ateneo’s over-the-top season, several Eagles took home significant individual awards including the Most Valuable Player honor to Rabeh al-Hussaini and the Rookie of the Year trophy to Ryan Buenafe.

Eagles forward Nonoy Baclao, adjudged the tournament's Best Defensive Player earlier, won the UAAP Finals MVP.

“Who would’ve thought we’d be in this situation," al-Hussaini, who played only two minutes in the first half because of early foul trouble, gushed. “In the first half, I wasn’t able to help my team but when I returned I just wanted to do whatever I could to contribute.

“It’s just been an overwhelming experience."

Veteran shooting guard Chris Tiu, who returned for one more season—his last—in the hopes of winning a title, led the way for the Eagles with 16 points.

“The character of this team has been unbelievable. It’s what makes this team so special," Tiu said.

“Everybody just stepped up when they needed to and that’s what got us here."

And when his team needed a spark from its team captain, Tiu gladly stepped into the limelight.

His two free throws, a three-pointer, and a runner helped the Eagles extend a 20-17 lead to a 27-17 bubble at the 7:53 mark of the second quarter, the first time the lead breached the 10-point barrier.

Later Tiu scored on a drive, part of an 8-0 run that shot the Eagles in front 41-26 at halftime.

But the defending champions wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Casio, La Salle’s own veteran two-guard, buried five of his three-pointers in the third quarter to spark the Archers’ 21-9 counterattack and cut down the deficit to 50-47 at the end of the period.

Any semblance of a fight, however, was snuffed out of La Salle after Casio fouled out of the game at the 3:48 mark of the fourth quarter with the score pegged at 55-49 in favor of Ateneo but the game still within reach.

Casio finished with 21 points, 18 of them coming from three-point territory.

La Salle already suffered a significant blow when Rico Maierhofer, the Archers’ only legitimate center, was ejected from the game after he incurred a second technical foul at the 1:31 mark of the third. – GMANews.TV
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