A meltdown meant for Shaqtin A Fool.
With the championship on the line, University of the Philippines (UP) veterans James Spencer and Ricci Rivero had major brain lags in the dying seconds as the Ateneo de Manila University took advantage and tied the UAAP men’s basketball finals with 69-66 victory Wednesday evening at the Mall of Asia Arena.
With 53 seconds left, Spencer committed his second errant inbound pass in the game, which led to an easy basket by Gian Mamuyac for a 69-63 lead.
The turnover spoiled the herculean efforts of Rookie of the Year Carl Tamayo and center Malick Diouf, who collaborated through the former’s outside shooting and the latter’s defense for the Maroons’ comeback from a fourteen-point deficit at the start of the third quarter to snatch a 57-56 lead midway in the final canto.
However, newly-minted Most Valuable Player Ange Kouame picked up the slack, asserting his dominance with two blocks, a bunch of offensive rebounds, and a putback slam as the Blue Eagles traded blows with the Fighting Maroons.
Mamuyac then grabbed the ball from Rivero in the ensuing possession, leading to an SJ Belangel fastbreak for a 65-61 cushion with two minutes left.
Compounded by Spencer’s last minute error, Ateneo never looked back as Rivero committed perhaps one of the worst brainfarts in UAAP history.
Down 65-69 with twelve seconds left, Rivero, instead of orchestrating a quick basket for his team, casually dribbled for ten seconds and forced a dipsy-doo which caught a foul.
However, even a forced miss on his second free throw was not enough for UP to find a quick three as Ateneo forced a do-or-die Game Three on Friday.
Kouame led his team with 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks while shooter Tyler Tio also chipped in 14 points.
Tamayo led the Maroons with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Meanwhile, in the NCAA, Mapua ends San Beda dynasty, enters NCAA finals. The Mapua Institute of Technology has returned to the seniors’ basketball finals for the first time since 1991, ending the fourteen-year finals appearance of San Beda University with a 70-67 upset in their do-or-die Final Four match earlier at the San Juan Arena.
Role players Toby Agustin and Renz Nocum played heroes, with the former swishing two free throws with six seconds left and the latter forcing an airball on King Lion James Kwekuteye to enter the finals.
Agustin’s free throws came off an excellent inbound play with all five players touching the ball as Jeric Pido found his comrade down low, fishing the foul from JB Bahio.
Prior to that, Nocum nailed a triple prior to the last two minutes and forced a turnover on his man Kwekuteye while Paolo Hernandez and Arvin Gamboa scored on scintillating dribble drives past the San Beda defense.
Gamboa and Brian Lacap led Mapua with 13 points each while rookie big man Yukien Andrada had a career high 19 points off four triples to San Beda.
The Cardinals will face defending champion Letran Knights on Sunday in a Battle of Intramuros special to open the finals.