Defending champion Ateneo flirted with disaster, letting University of the Philippines loose in the first half before notching a 76-70 victory in UAAP Season 75 action of Thursday at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.
Forward Nico Salva hit 13 of his 21 points in the third quarter when the Blue Eagles made their big run. Greg Slaughter added 13 points and nine rebounds while Kiefer Ravena scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds.
“Nabigla kami sa energy nila but we were able to adjust in the second half,” said Salva.
“They shocked us in the first half,” said Ateneo coach Norman Black. “But what is important for us is to settle down and get back in the second half.”
UP zoomed ahead in the first quarter with a 15-8 lead courtesy of a three-pointer by rookie Henry Asilum before closing out the period with a 19-17 lead.
The Fighting Maroons then forced Ateneo to five turnovers in the first three minutes of the second quarter, leading to easy layups by guard Jelo Montecastro and forward Mike Silungan to grab a 40-32 cushion after the first half.
But Ateneo woke up after the break, with Salva and Slaughter conspiring in a 12-5 run to tie the game at 47-all. The Blue Eagles grabbed the lead after the third quarter, 61-57.
Ateneo led by as much as 10 points, 74-64, courtesy of free throws from Oping Sumalinog with under two minutes left.
UP scored four unanswered points to trim the lead to six late in the game, but it was not enough to overcome the lead of Ateneo.
Technical problems delayed the start of the game by almost 30 minutes as the shot clock on one side of the court malfunctioned. UP and Ateneo then decided to just rely on manual relaying of the time from the arena announcer before a replacement clock was installed for the second half.
Guard Mark Lopez scored 13 points and seven rebounds, while Ball chipped in 11 points and seven rebounds to lead UP, which lost its fourth straight game.