by Edison Ubaldo
The University of the Philippines squandered a 10-point lead early in the third quarter to suffer another heart-breaking loss at the hands of five-peat-seeking Ateneo de Manila University, 70-76, in the UAAP Men’s Basketball Tournament yesterday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Fighting Maroons unleashed surprising fireworks in the first half, but it did not last long enough for them to win the game.
Blue Eagle behemoth Greg Slaughter and veteran forward Nico Salva combined for 20 points in the pivotal third frame to fuel a spirited comeback, but it was Christopher Sumalinog’s crucial baskets which counted the most as Ateneo held on to a 61-57 edge entering the final canto.
The Eagles never looked back from there as Salva went on to explode for 21 points on top of five rebounds, three steals and shooting nine-of-nine from the line.
“We have to give the UP Team a lot of credit. I think the Ateneo team’s gonna get the best effort from every team that we go up against,” said Ateneo head coach Norman Black.
UP zoomed to an early 15-8 spread but Ateneo quickly responded racing to a 17-19 deficit after the opening quarter.
An alley-oop pass from Maroon guard Jelo Montecastro to team captain Mike Silungan sparked a 10-5 breakaway capped by rookie Henry Asilum’s three-point jumper to push UP ahead at 37-30.
With the Eagles trailing behind, Salva scored six straight points to force a deadlock at 50-50 with less than five minutes to play in the third quarter.
Ateneo continued the onslaught as Sumalinog knocked down a trey and two free throws to fend off the furious run of the Maroons converting a dangerous 69-64 edge to a 74-64 spread going into the last two minutes of the pay-off period.
The Blue Eagle defense limited the Maroons to a dismal 34.6 percentage from the inside while connecting 44.1 percent of their shots. UP performed better from behind the arc, having a monstrous 50 percentage rate against Ateneo’s 20 percent.
Guard Mark Lopez topscored UP dishing out 13 points and seven rebounds, while big man Chris Ball supplemented with 11 markers, seven boards and three blocks.
The Maroons, who dropped to a 0-4 win-loss card, will face Season 74 runner-up Far Eastern University Tamaraws at 2 pm on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.