Big Finals victory against La Salle completes a turnaround season for Ateneo
After winning last year's UAAP championship, the De La Salle Green Archers came into the UAAP Season 80 as the favorites to repeat as champions as they had Ben Mbala, the now two-time MVP, on board.
Although they were defeated by the UP Fighting Maroons and the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles back in the first round, they literally and figuratively stormed into the Final 4 by ending Ateneo's 13-game winning streak. Then, the defending champions disposed the Adamson Falcons in their lone Final 4 game to enter the Finals for the second straight season.
On the other hand, aside from seeing their 13-game winning streak snapped by the Archers, the Ateneo Blue Eagles had to sweat it out against the Far Eastern University Tamaraws who forced a do-or-die game that even went into an extra period. If not to Isaac Go's heroics, that 13-1 record that Ateneo established would have been for naught.
Coming into the best-of-3 championship series, everyone was expecting it to be a bloody affair owing to the fact that it was between Ateneo and La Salle. And it turned out to be a bloody war indeed as blood from both sides was spilled onto the court, numerous times.
Game 1 went to the guys in blue after a heroic outing from none other than Isaac Go. Game 2, on the other hand, went to the men in green as La Salle erased a 21-point deficit that forced a Game 3.
The third game of the series was a beauty to behold as it was filled with non-stop, amazing basketball action from start to finish. In the end, the Blue Eagles successfully avoided another late-game meltdown after beating the Archers, 88-86- to bring back the crown to Katipunan.
If anything, this championship that Ateneo won showed their determination to redeem their themselves all season long after losing last year's championship series due to the inexperience of the team, most especially Thirdy Ravena who made costly mistakes in that series.
Ravena, the Finals MVP this season, has improved tremendously as he contributed to the success of the team not just by scoring on monstrous dunks but, by being a facilitator, a great rebounder and, a defender as well.
Isaac Go also redeemed himself after missing the potential game-winner against La Salle back in the second round. He rescued the Eagles thrice this season, once against FEU and twice in the Finals- the last one being the booming trey that statistically iced up the Eagles' victory in Game 3. And, Isaac Go's "clutchness" even made Norman Black- the man behind Ateneo's 5-peat run, dance.
Chibueze Ikeh failed to defend Ben Mbala down low in Game 3 but that didn't stop him playing his best game of the season after scoring 12 points- including that big dunk late in the 4th quarter, while also grabbing 13 rebounds- 8 from the offensive end. He ended his UAAP career with a championship to savor. What a way to redeem from the previous two seasons that were filled with turmoil, right?
Ateneo will lose three players to graduation next season. However, this would mean that Isaac Go will play a bigger role in the Eagles' title defense. But let's not get ahead of ourselves folks. Let Ateneo savor this victory for a little while. After all, it has been 5 years since that last title, right?