At the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday, ATENEO secured the top slot in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball Final Four by defeating Adamson, 66-61, despite their valiant effort.
Even though they are already guaranteed to have a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final 4, head coach Tab Baldwin promised that his team will still be aiming for victory.
The Blue Eagles (10-3) will receive the top seed in the Final 4 if they triumph. Baldwin pointed out that earlier in the season, when Ateneo lost to the University of the Philippines (UP), De La Salle University, and National University, this situation seemed unlikely (NU).
The Blue Eagles almost avoided a major blow from the Soaring Falcons as their 10-point advantage, 60-50 in the last 4:45, was reduced to one following a Cedrick Manzano basket in the final 1:42, 62-61.
With 35.3 seconds left, Ange Kouame gave Ateneo some breathing room with a putback, but the team still had to avoid two treys from Joaquin Jaymalin and Joem Sabandal before BJ Andrade sealed the victory at the foul line.
Ateneo’s Kai Ballungay exploded for a double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds, while AP Manlapaz of Adamson led the team in defeat with a 22-point outburst in just 16 minutes after coming off the bench.
With the victory, the Blue Eagles will again finish first in the rankings with a record of 11-3, marking their fifth consecutive season at the top of the heap. They will also have a fresh twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals.
While awaiting the outcome of the fourth-place playoff between Adamson and La Salle, who both finished with equal 7-7 cards, the Katipunan side waited inactively.
The teams will play in a knockout game for the final position in the Final 4 if LaSalle prevails and the Soaring Falcons lose, tying the score at 7-7.
As they concentrate on Ateneo’s last task of the elimination round, Baldwin is now not thinking about these eventualities.