Featured image: STAR OF THE NIGHT – Ateneo star Thirdy Ravena whips up the Loyola faithful after the Blue Eagles beat the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in Game 2, 99-81, to complete a sweep of the UAAP Season 81 Finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. | MB photo by Rio Leonelle Deluvio.
Words by Waylon Galvez – MANILA BULLETIN Sports
In the end, the Ateneo Blue Eagles hardly ruffled a feather in soaring to heights University of the Philippines (UP) can only dream of reaching if it challenges for the UAAP crown again next season.
That would make it 33 years after the Fighting Maroons last stood on the peak of the country’s premier collegiate basketball league.
For now, however, the much-ballyhooed Battle of Katipunan belonged to the blue-clad back-to-back champions from Loyola, and it could be a safe bet to say there would be no bonfires lit in Diliman this year.
Ateneo didn’t waste any opportunity ending UP’s “Cinderella” campaign, zapping the Fighting Maroons’ magical run long before midnight struck.
Precise in their offensive execution and merciless on defense, the Blue Eagles completed a sweep of the best-of-three title series by dominating Game Two Wednesday night, 99-81, and ruling UAAP Season 81 men’s basketball—their 10th overall championship—at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Thirdy Ravena, the Eagles’ high-flying star, fired a career-high 38 points, including 18 in the final quarter as Ateneo celebrated the blowout victory before supporters who came prepared to witness a war but instead came away after viewing a mismatch.
Angelo Kouame, the Ivory Coast native named Rookie of the Year earlier, came through with 22 points and 20 rebounds for Ateneo as he outdueled MVP winner Bright Akhutie, UP’s Nigerian center who finished with 19 points and eight boards.
Ravena said they held nothing back during the series.
“It’s the finals. You just have to give everything you got,” said the senior forward, who won a second straight Finals MVP as he also collected six rebounds, six assists, and three steals in nearly 33 minutes.
Ateneo’s victory moved the team to fourth overall for most titles won behind the 20 of Far Eastern University and the 18 of both University of the East and Santo Tomas U, three schools forced to watch from the sidelines this season as the Eagles and Maroons seized the spotlight.
The 2-0 triumph was also a redemption of sorts for Ateneo, marking the first sweep by a team in a best-of-three title showdown after the Eagles were brushed aside by arch-rival De La Salle in the 2016 finals.
As much as the efforts of his players, Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin credited the personalities, particularly chief benefactor Manny V. Pangilinan, who worked behind the scene to craft a successful program for the team, starting with a Jones Cup stint in Taiwan this year.
“They’re a marvelous team. It’s a joy to work with them the whole season,” said Baldwin.
Ateneo, which took the opener 88-79 last Saturday, was never threatened, with the record crowd of 23,471—the biggest this season—reduced in fury as UP slowly fell behind.
With the 6-foot-2 Ravena leading the way, the Blue Eagles set the tone as they opened a 25-13 advantage in the first period, establishing a 48-37 halftime lead on 18-of-40 shooting from the field (45 percent).
On the defensive end, Ateneo limited UP to 12 of 34 (35.29 percent) in the first two quarters, including 4 of 8 by Juan Gomez de Liaño and 4 of 10 by Paul Desiderio. Rebounding also went the Eagles’ way, 30-18.