NU deals Ateneo early dent in UAAP title defense

Kean Baclaan drives through the lane. Jade Moya
By Dugout Philippines

PASAY--National University dealt Ateneo de Manila University an early setback in its title retention bid, winning 77-64 in the UAAP Season 86 Men's Basketball Tournament's opening day at the SM Mall of Asia Arena on Saturday.

This marked the Blue Eagles' first opening-day loss since Sept. 9, 2018, when they were defeated 70-74 by Adamson University.

This 13-point defeat was also only Ateneo's third double-digit loss during the Tab Baldwin era. The first two occurred in Season 79: a 70-60 loss to NU on Sept. 11, 2016, and a 97-81 loss to De La Salle University on Oct. 2, 2016.

The Bulldogs, who had also defeated the Blue Eagles in the previous season, initially struggled, missing their first 10 attempts from beyond the arc. However, they found their rhythm in the second half, making six of their next nine shots to seize control of the game.

The Bulldogs had a blazing start in the fourth quarter, scoring the first 10 points, with Jolo Manansala and Patrick Yu converting back-to-back treys before Mike Malonzo added a layup to extend their lead to 18 points with 6:49 left in the game, making the score 65-47.

"Siguro nakachamba kami against a stronger team. We now shift our focus to FEU. Itong panalong ito wala namang silbi ito... it's just a win," said NU Head Coach Jeff Napa.

Yu led the balanced offensive charge of the Bulldogs with 12 points, while Steve Nash Enriquez contributed 10 points as well.

Eight more NU players scored at least four points in the game, with Kenshin Padrones getting nine, Manansala and PJ Palacielo both scoring eight, and Omar John and Jake Figueroa tallying seven apiece.

Up next for NU will be Far Eastern University in a quadruple-header on Wednesday at the same Pasay venue at 12 p.m.

"We will continue to push ourselves to the limit to deliver a strong performance," Napa added.

Gab Gomez and Sean Quitevis each scored 12 points for Ateneo, which will face arch-rival De La Salle University on Wednesday at 6 p.m. as well.

Ian Espinosa also contributed 10 points for the Blue Eagles, while highly-touted rookie Mason Amos was held to just two points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field in his 17 minutes on the floor.

Joseph Obasa, Ateneo's one-and-done big man who replaced Ange Kouame, was also limited to just two points. Kai Ballungay missed all six of his field goal attempts, producing just four points from the free-throw line.

The Scores:

NU 77 - Yu 12, Enriquez 10, Padrones 9, Manansala 8, Palacielo 8, John 7, Figueroa 7, Malonzo 6, Lim 6, Baclaan 4, Jumamoy 0, Casinillo 0, Delos Reyes 0, Galinato 0, Gulapa 0, Parks 0. 

Ateneo 64 - Gomez 12, Quitevis 12, Espinosa 10, Lazaro 6, Bongo 5, Credo 4, Koon 4, Ballungay 4, Brown 3, Obasa 2, Amos 2, Chiu 0, Nieto 0, Celos 0. 

Quarterscores: 23-15, 36-32, 55-47, 77-64.

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