Archers sew up win that matters most
By Jasmine W. Payo Inquirer GAMES THURSDAY (Araneta Coliseum) 3 p.m. -- Univ. of the East vs La Salle (Game 1, best-of-three Finals) MANILA, Philippines--It was the biggest winning margin in the rivalry that more than lived up to its hype this season. And the win also turned out to be the biggest of them all. De La Salle University ended its rare five-game saga with arch rival Ateneo de Manila University on top as the Green Archers turned back the Blue Eagles, 65-60, Sunday to clinch the last UAAP Finals berth in front of a 23,000-strong sellout crowd at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City. “This is the only time that two is greater than three,” said La Salle coach Franz Pumaren. “They beat us three times (this season), but we beat them when it counted the most.” La Salle senior guard Cholo Villanueva found the seams in the Ateneo defense, drilling in nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Archers in control. “This is the ‘welcome back’ party for us,” said Villanueva, referring to the Archers’ impressive return to the Finals after serving a one-year suspension last season. “Coach Franz said to just control the tempo of the game, make good stops and convert it into offense. It was all about controlling the tempo of the game.” But a more arduous road lies ahead as the Archers face the undefeated University of the East Warriors in the best-of-three championship series. Game 1 will kick off at 3 p.m. on Thursday at the Araneta Coliseum. The title duel has its own interesting sidebar as Franz squares off with younger brother and UE mentor Dindo Pumaren. “It’s a long overdue series with Dindo,” said Franz after nailing the second title slot in front of 23,319 fans, the biggest crowd ever recorded in Philippine basketball history. Offense failed the Eagles at crunch time as the Eagles shot an abysmal 20 percent -- 2 out of 10 field goal attempts -- in the fourth quarter. But they stayed in the game by scoring 12 of their 17 markers in the final quarter from the foul line. Pumaren said the Archers made sure to tighten their defensive screws in the closing minutes. “This is one game where we really responded well playing defensively,” he said. “The players tend to relax, but the players made sure that no way are we going to relax this time. We played smart down the stretch.” The Archers took off early in the fourth quarter with a pair of Villanueva lay-ups sandwiching a TY Tang triple for the biggest lead of the game, 55-46, with 5:30 minutes left. Eric Salamat ended the Ateneo drought with a three-point play, but Villanueva responded 33 seconds later with a triple on top of the key to push the gap back to nine, 58-49. The Eagles came up with one last gasp as rookie center Nonoy Baclao surprisingly nailed a triple to trim the margin by a basket, 62-60, with 13.6 seconds left. But the rally proved futile as JV Casio and Rico Maierhofer converted three of their four foul shots to cushion the Archers’ lead in the last 11 seconds. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Ateneo coach Norman Black, who emerged from the dugout more than an hour after the game. “As far as I can remember, you guys didn’t even give us a chance to reach this far.” Outside the coliseum, scalpers also had a field day with patron tickets going ridiculously high at P6, 000 apiece.
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