Games Thursday

Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City

2 p.m. NU vs FEU

4 p.m. La Salle vs UST

Team Standings

FEU - 9-2

Ateneo - 9-3

Adamson - 8-4

La Salle - 7-4

NU - 5-6

UE - 4-8

UST - 4-7

UP - 0-12

ATENEO de Manila repeated its mastery over Adamson for the 27th time, 55-52, as the Blue Eagles booked its 12th straight Final Four appearance in the 73rd University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament Sunday night.

In the curtain raiser, University of the East (UE) bowed out of the Final Four race for the first time since 2001 after a retooled National University zapped the Red Warriors, 69-68.

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Before a nearly-filled Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, the reigning back-to-back champions escaped the gritty challenge of the Soaring Falcons, who are racing against Ateneo for the right to join league-leader Far Eastern University (FEU) in the semifinal bus.

MANILA. Three-peat seeking Ateneo de Manila survived Adamson, 55-52, to catch the second Final Four ticket in the 73rd UAAP men’s basketball tournament. (Sunnex/Virgil Lopez)

Adamson is just one breath away from snatching the win from the Katipunan-based dribblers after skipper Lester Alvarez fired a triple with 2:27 remaining in the payoff period to put the score to their favor, 52-51.

Third year slotman Nico Salva also gave another chance for Adamson after missing his foul shots, but the Falcons miserably faltered in the succeeding plays.

The 20-year-old Salva, who played even with a dislocated finger, redeemed himself when he put Ateneo on top again in the ninth and last lead change, 53-52, and never looked back.

“First thing we did is to regain our focus, especially after the game against UE where we did not play good defense. For this game, we did a good job defensively. We really had a hard time making outside shots for this game. I think they really have to scramble for the points that they have to make,” said Ateneo mentor Norman Black.

Ateneo also leaned on 2008 top rookie Ryan Buenafe, who posted an impressive 14-point output on a seven-of-11 marksmanship, while adding 12 boards and a steal to this former San Sebastian Staglet.

“We really have to bounce back because if we lost this game, we will find ourselves mired in the third or fourth spot. Teamwork is the key for this win,” he said, referring to their 60-62 surprise loss to UE last Thursday.

Sophomore bigman Eric Camson used his last duty foul against diminutive Emman Monfort, who perfected his charities to move ahead at 55-52, which ended up as the season’s lowest scoring match up after Alvarez flubbed a triple with less than 10 seconds left.

Alvarez posted a game-high 22 points, four assists and a rebound while Alex Nuyles chipped in 14 for Adamson’s losing cause while Salva and American Kirk Long combined for 23 markers for Ateneo.

Ateneo grabbed the solo second spot at 9-3, half game behind FEU, while Adamson slipped to 8-4.

NU lives another day

In a battle that checked who’s got the bigger heart, the Bulldogs showed better composure down the stretch with Cameroonian rookie Emmanuel Mbe pacing the team with 18 points, nine rebounds and two assists while Jewel Ponferrada added 15.

“We are looking things one game at a time. Every game could be a stumbling block or stepping stone for us. I’m glad that the boys responded and this serves as the stepping stone. UE is a hard team to beat. If they use their backcourt press early in the tournament, they could have been in Final Four now,” NU coach Eric Gonzales told reporters.

NU is somewhat on track to crack the whip on UE but the Recto-based squad made a 7-0 spurt to close within a point, 65-66, with one minute left.

But the Bulldogs went out of their way to change the tide and capitalized on UE’s back-to-back errors, highlighted by rebound king Kenneth Acibar’s foul on veteran Joseph Hermosisima, who perfected crucial charities to inch ahead, 68-65.

UE star Paul Lee flubbed a potential game-tying trey while Mervin Baloran split his foul shots off Paul Zamar’s infraction to seal the deal for the Sampaloc-based squad.

Acibar paced UE’s losing cause with 16 markers and nine boards while skipper James Martinez and Zamar combined for 25 points.

NU improved to 5-6 (win-loss) card, two-and-a-half games behind La Salle (7-4) who won big time against title favorite FEU (9-2) on Saturday.

The Bulldogs are raring to join the Final Four cast in nine years but this will only materialize if La Salle loses its three remaining games (University of Santo Tomas UE, and Adamson) while sweeping FEU, Adamson and UST.

The Scores:

First Game

NU (69) - Mbe 18, Ponferrada 15, Hermosisima 11, Khobuntin 8, Terso 5, Baloran 5, Ignacio 3, Javillonar 2, Tungcul 2, Singh 0, Malanday 0, Magat 0.

UE (68) - Acibar 16, Martinez 14, Zamar 11, Lee 10, Rosopa 6, Reyes 6, Casajeros 5, Santos 0, Tagarda 0, Noble 0, Duran 0.

Quarters: 20-16, 37-39, 57-48, 69-68.

Second Game

Ateneo (55) - Buenafe 14, Salva 13, Long 10, Salamat 7, Monfort 7, Chua 4, Escueta 0, Dela Cruz 0, Tiongson 0, Golla 0, Austria 0.

Adamson (52) - Alvarez 22, Nuyles 14, Colina 3, Camson 3, Galinato 2, Manyara 1, Cabrera 1, Stinnett 0, Canada 0.

Quarters: 16-10, 22-21, 41-34, 55-52.

(Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)