By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
It took four long years for a team to finally take down the mighty Ateneo Blue Eagles.
Since tasting their last defeat on October 10, 2018 against the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, Ateneo made history after keeping its 39-game winning streak alive until the 2022 UAAP Season 84.
Until they met a UP Fighting Maroons team as talented and deep as they are.
The magic spell finally broke as the Fighting Maroons put an end to Ateneo’s 39-game winning streak after taking them down in the last game of the second-round eliminations, 84-83, in the ongoing UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
It was a strange sight to see as the Fighting Maroons immediately built a double-digit lead against the Blue Eagles in the first half.
James Spencer, Ricci Rivero, and Malick Diouf came out strong and found the gaps in the loose Ateneo defense.
Aside from the Fighting Maroons’ offensive prowess, their much-improved communication on defense led to their several stops which prevented Ateneo to strike back early and cut the deficit to single digits.
However, Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin was quick to make his adjustments and countered UP’s physicality with their own brand of scrappiness.
From an 18-point deficit, Ateneo quickly turned things around and got the lead back, 53-52, with 7:26 remaining in the third quarter.
The Fighting Maroons then fought back immediately and turned to their money men Spencer and Rivero who answered every Ateneo basket that set up a nip-and-tuck affair heading into the final canto.
Both teams traded basket after basket and went down to the wire until the final minute of the game. With UP down 79-81 in the final 44 seconds, Spencer delivered the goods and buried a three-pointer to put them back up again, 82-81.
Dave Ildefonso answered back after pulling down the offensive rebound off a Gian Mamuyac miss and laid the ball in for the 83-82 lead.
Rivero then iced the game and sank the two most important free throws that sealed the deal for the Fighting Maroons.
“Well winning against Ateneo, of course, is a big achievement for us, and knowing that Ateneo is 13-0 and they had a long streak,” said UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde.