The Blue Eagles controlled the pace of the game, and survived a furious La Salle rally down the stretch, as the Ateneo De Manila Blue Eagles draws first blood as they defeated the defending champions, De La Salle Green Archers, 76-70 in Game One of the UAAP Finals.
The Eagles led by double-digits several times through out the ball game. La Salle made several comeback attempts during this contest, but the Eagles had an answer for every Archer rally.
Just like their round one encounter against the Eagles, La Salle started the game slow. Thanks to efforts of Aaron Black and Matt Nieto, who both scored 7 points each during the opening quarter, the first quarter ended with the Blue Eagles in complete control, 26-14. La Salle would cut the lead during the second period, thanks to the hot shooting of Aljun Melecio and the hard work of Prince Rivero. The game also started to get physical, as an inadvertent Ben Mbala elbow busted Matt Nieto’s face wide open much to the dismay of his father, former Blue Eagle Jett Nieto. The incident also fired up his brother Mike. The first half ended, 43-39, in favor of the Blue Eagles.
It was a nip and tuck affair during the third quarter. Aljun Melecio continued his hot shooting ways and Ricci Rivero finally started to heat up during the third period. The third quarter ended, 60-58 in favor of the blue and white to set up an exciting fourth quarter. The Eagles tried to pull away during the payoff period, as they led by 10 points mid-way though the fourth quarter. But La Salle quickly countered with a 7-0 run to set up an exciting finish. With Ateneo up by 3 points during the dying seconds of the game, Final Four hero Isaac Go once again stepped up for the Blue Eagles during crunch time, as he made a clutch “And One” play to seal the win for Team Katipunan.
It was a total team effort for Ateneo, as 4 Ateneans scored in double-digits. Thirdy Ravena led the way with 12 points while the Nieto brothers combined for 22 points. Anton Asistio chipped in 10 points. Aljun Melecio led the way for the Green Archers as he finally ended his slump. Melecio exploded for 24 points, highlighted by 5 booming triples. Unfortunately, he didn’t get enough help from his teammates, especially from his two superstar teammates who were the most consistent Archers during this season. Ricci Rivero finished with just 10 points and he shot only 4/11 from the field. Ricci and Melecio were the only two Archers to finish in double-digits. Ben Mbala had a horrible game, as he finished with a UAAP career low of only 8 points, as he only made 3/7 shots from the field. If La Salle wants to extend the season to a Game 3, they would need the usual numbers of Ben Mbala and Ricci Rivero for game 2.
Game 2 is on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.