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UP dethrones Ateneo, enters third straight UAAP finals

CJ Cansino celebrates UP's return to the finals after dethroning Ateneo in the Final Four.

Top seed University of the Philippines ended the reign of Ateneo de Manila University with a 57-46 win in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 86 men’s basketball tournament Final Four on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Fighting Maroons leaned on a strong second half to bring down the Blue Eagles and advance to their third straight trip to the finals.

UP will take on the survivor between twice-to-beat De La Salle University and National University, which are playing as of posting time, in the best-of-three finals.

The Fighting Maroons got their game going in the third period, outscoring the Blue Eagles, 20-12, before clamping down on defense that limited the dethroned champions to just nine points in the final canto.

Reigning Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf had a monster game piling up a double-double of 12 points and 16 rebounds he laced with three blocks and an assist for UP, which snapped Ateneo’s six consecutive championship appearance.

It was a chess match in the first two quarters as both teams engaged in a defensive tug-of-war, not letting anyone get enough room to pull away. The Blue Eagles entered the halftime with a 25-22 lead.

“I think the score says it all. The first half was like 25 to 22. And that’s a one quarter score. So both teams just came prepared especially on the defensive end, both teams also struggled offensively,” UP assistant coach Christian Luanzon said.

“We got it going in the third quarter, had a couple of bank shots from our players but more than that, they just fought hard and kept grinding until the end. That’s hats off to all the players.”

Francis Lopez had 12 markers and 10 boards while Janjan Felicilda and Gerry Abadiano finished with 10 and nine markers, respectively, as the Fighting Maroons remained on the right track of reclaiming the title it lost in Season 85.

It will be the first time that the Blue Eagles got sent into an early vacation since missing the championship round in 2015.

The loss also marked the first time head coach Tab Baldwin came up short of bringing Ateneo to the finals since taking over the coaching reins in 2016. Baldwin won four titles during the six finals stints.

Chris Koon led Ateneo with 10 points and eight rebounds, Kai Ballungay had eight markers while one-and-done foreign student-athlete Joseph Obasa had four points and grabbed 10 boards.

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