Ateneo, UP zero in on title hunt as awards rain down on Katipunan

MVP Ange Kouame, along with fellow Mythical Five members Zavier Lucero and Rookie of the Year Carl Tamayo, shun the glamor of individual awards as the UAAP championship remains just fingertips away from their grasp

MANILA, Philippines – The stakes couldn’t be any higher for the two protagonists of the UAAP Season 84 finals resuming with Game 2 this Wednesday, May 11.

The Ateneo Blue Eagles – three-time defending champions and once undefeated in the last four years – now find themselves on the brink of a monumental collapse and the end of their dynasty as they know it.

Meanwhile, the UP Fighting Maroons, despite having a one-win cushion in the best-of-three finals, might as well be in a do-or-die situation all the same.

On the cusp of their first title since 1986, they can’t afford to wake up a sleeping Ateneo giant at this season’s juncture and, in all likelihood, lose precious momentum once forced into a winner-take-all Game 3.

As such, both teams are laser-focused to the task at hand this Wednesday at 6 pm, one hour after a handful of their top stars are feted with the league’s top individual awards.

Starting at the top, Ateneo star center Ange Kouame was awarded his first UAAP MVP award, marking the first time a Blue Eagle won it since Kiefer Ravena copped back-to-back citations in 2014 and 2015.

A frontrunner for much of the season, the naturalized Gilas Pilipinas anchor had always kept the prospect of winning MVP at the very back of his mind, saying the award pales in comparison to the true top prize.

“To be honest with you, I rather be champion than be MVP because we believe that’s the main goal, the championship is what it’s all about,” he said a week prior.

“But if I’m MVP, I’ll give credit to my teammates. This is what motivates me to push myself every single day, especially for this season.”

Kouame finished the elimination round with stellar averages of 12.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, and 1.7 assists – enough for a runaway statistical points (SPs) total of 69.21 to cop the league’s top individual honor.

Still classified as a foreign student-athlete under UAAP rules, the Cote d’Ivorie-born, naturalized Filipino also entered the Mythical Five for the first time, and he is joined by a pair of first-year Maroons, Zavier Lucero and Rookie of the Year Carl Tamayo.

Lucero, a former MVP frontrunner, did enough damage in the first round to hang tough with averages of 13.4 points, 8.1 boards, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.9 blocks for 63.0 SPs.

Meanwhile, Tamayo – the first Rookie of the Year to also crack the Mythical Five since La Salle legend Jeron Teng in 2012 – finished with 57.64 SPs from norms of 13.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.4 dimes, and 0.9s.

Despite having a handful of newbies under his watch, head coach Goldwin Monteverde – a rookie mentor himself in the UAAP seniors level – led this talented but inexperienced bunch on the cusp of toppling a well-oiled, veteran-laden system headed by the multi- titled Tab Baldwin.

But like his budding star cast already racking up awards left and right, the decorated high school coach is intent on blocking out the noise with history beckoning on his first year on the job.

“To be honest, I’m not really thinking about [Ateneo’s] streak before, or taking down a team like Ateneo. It’s more about us focusing on our goal,” he said after UP took Game 1 in a thrilling overtime heist. “We have a goal along the way, and no matter what you face along the day, we got to do something to overcome that.

“To me I just give my best, just help the team, and let them help one another to achieve this. That’s all I’m thinking about.”

Ateneo and UP have both lived up to their lofty billing in the preseason and are now the last two teams contending for the UAAP championship. They have received all the praises, earned all the awards, and now, have one more thing left to do.

Soon enough, a celebratory bonfire will light up Katipunan Avenue as thousands of students are expected to celebrate a well-deserved championship. The only question is: on which side of Katipunan will the party start? –

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