After tripping foes, La Salle and UP share spot below Ateneo —and will part ways in key battle of potential title contenders

La Salle's Justine Baltazar (no 19) helped push back a lot of UST in the second half.  FEU's Xyrus Torres caused a fever with 26 points, three times higher.  —Photos provided by UAAP MEDIA

La Salle’s Justine Baltazar (no 19) helped push back a lot of UST in the second half. FEU’s Xyrus Torres caused a fever with 26 points, three times higher. —Photos provided by UAAP MEDIA

The stands erupted in cheers as fans finally returned to UAAP, albeit not in their usual lineup, more than two years after they packed the very same Mall of Asia Arena. in the final match of the championship series.

Ateneo won that title, riding an undefeated run and still alive. And the two teams seen as the biggest threat to the Eagles’ reign came through with genuine wins on Tuesday.

But both are aware they have a lot of ground to cover before they can be considered serious title contenders.

“A win is a win,” says coach Goldwyn Monteverde of the University of the Philippines (UP). “But obviously we still have a lot of work to do with our defence.”

The comment comes after the Maroons wrestled with Adamson, 73-71, to become the second-hottest team in the league – UP hit a fourth straight win.

Later in the day, La Salle used a strong start and a systematic approach to put out the fire and bring the young rockets of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) back to earth with a 75-plus victory- 66.

Victory Eagle

Archers coach Derrick Pumaren was slightly more pleased with his team’s results than Monteverde for context: La Salle was about to lose when he said his team “just gave up”.

That loss went to Ateneo (74-57) and is now the only goal in La Salle’s record in five games so far. UP is also 4-1, losing their opening game to the defending champions Eagles.

Ateneo continues to lead the table after recording a fifth straight win, after dominating National University, 74-64.

The Blue Eagles, who haven’t lost since October 2018, are currently on a 31-game winning streak in their hunt for a fourth consecutive crown.

Ange Kouame nearly had a brace with 12 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks and added two steals as he fixed Ateneo’s defence. Comebacking Dave Ildefonso tops the table for the Eagles with 14 points and 3 assists

Tied in second, UP and La Salle split on Thursday and Monteverde knows a passable performance against the Falcons will want to counter the talented Archers.

Zav Lucero, Maodo Diouf and Ricci Rivero all hit the mark from within but UP had to put in the final push to keep Adamson (1-4).

Diouf had a three-point combo — he split his charity, recovered from a late-court miss and cut a quick path to the basket for a layup — to give UP a much needed breath 68-62 to get to the three-minute final. Lucero hit a header while Rivero got a big treble as UP extended the gap to seven.

But the Falcons dug a final engagement when Ahmad Hanapi pulled out three points and Joshua Yerro drove hard to take a 73-71 lead with 31.4 seconds remaining.

The Falcons then tightened their defense, sucking the ball to the corner, where Rivero missed a treble, giving Adamson a final shot to seal the victory.

Reality check

But Jerom Lastimosa, whose offensive behavior and gameplay has sustained the Falcons’ annoyance for most of the game, pounced on a three-pointer that completely missed the rim when time expired.

“I think in the next game we need to really look at our defence,” said Monteverde. “We couldn’t go into Thursday with the same defensive intensity as we showed [against UP]. ”

After all, La Salle is winning against UST (2-3) with a harsh reality check using a snappy attack behavior.

Justine Baltazar and Emman Galman hit the Archers in the first half, giving their team a 17-point lead before going into halftime 42-27.

Joshua Fontanilla, who finished with 20 points, ignited the Tigers at the start of game three as UST came in 47-38. But La Salle’s Kurt Lojera hit the belt and scored six straight points to boost the lead back to 15.

Baltazar finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists to lead La Salle while Lojera added 15 points and three steals. Galman gets 13 points on a 5/10 shot.

Nic Habanero also had 20 points and 10 rebounds for UST, which went into the game with straight wins.

“I think this win is very important for us,” said Pumaren. In another game, Xyrus Torres made eight of his 15 attempts from outside the arc and finished with 26 points as Far Eastern University halted a three-match slip and beat Oriental University, 88-74 . INQ


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