Ateneo de Manila rode on a blistering start and held off repeated comebacks by University of the Philippines to regain the University Athletic Association of the Philippines before a roaring capacity crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum Monday.
The final score: 75-68.
Ange Kouame, Gilas Pilipinas’ naturalized player, proved to be the biggest difference as his intimidating presence inside the shaded lane forced the Maroons to either change their shots or risk themselves getting blocked.
Kouame completed a three-point play following a putback to give the Eagles a 70-62 lead with 1:48 lead after the Maroons came to within five, 67-62.
A Kouame block on the other end of the floor allowed the Eagles to regain ball possession time down to a little over a minute.
UP made a last-ditch effort through Rico Calderon whose triple shoved the Maroons to within three, 70-67, with 20 seconds remaining.
But the Eagles hung on to dear life at the end.
After falling by 20 points at the start of the third quarter, the Maroons mounted a searing rally with JD Cagulangan fueling a 9-2 run.
A Henry Galinato putback and a slam and a James Spencer three-pointer pushed the Maroons to within six, 56-50, forcing Ateneo to sue for time with three minutes left in the third period.
The Eagles managed to hold on to a 60-52 lead going into the payoff period.
More than 22,000 spectators in blue and maroon filled every nook and cranny of the Big Dome expecting a titanic battle.
Seen on the crowd were Manny Pangilinan, Ateneo’s biggest benefactor; Philippine Basketball Association coaches Norman Black and Yeng Guiao, Senators Chiz Escudero and Kiko Pangilinan, Philippine Sports Commission chairman Noli Eala and a sprinkle of PBA stars like Aaron Black, Jay Gomez de Liano, Tyler Tio and Ritchie Rivero.
The first half did not turn out well for the Maroons who did not waste time to make their intentions known, racing to a nine-point lead after holding the Maroons scoreless in the first four minutes.
The lead ballooned to 18, 30-12, on a Matthew Daves putback with 49 seconds left in the opening period.
Ange Kouame, feasting on the absence of six-foot-seven counterpart Zav Lucero, hit 10 points and eight rebounds in the first two quarters as the Eagles returned to the locker room holding a 47-32 lead at halftime.
The Maroons were saddled by turnovers in the face of the Eagles’ relentless pressure.
UP has not lost back-to-back in its last 36 matches.
UP coach Goldwyn Monteverde has an even longer streak of 69 games without losing two straight matches since he took over the coaching chores of the National University in junior basketball.
Ateneo, on the other hand, came into the match hoping to put to erase a jinx. The Eagles have yet to win the title after losing the first game in the finals.