(MALAYA) BY CHRISTINE MONCADA - ATENEO dug deep into its championship experience yesterday to retain its UAAP menís basketball crown while extending University of the Eastís title drought before an overflow crowd at the Araneta Coliseum.

Proving they are the best team this season, the Blue Eagles streaked to a 40-25 lead at halftime and held their ground the rest of the way to score a 71-58 victory and take a 2-1 win in the best-of-three series before 18,852 fans.

Former senator Robert Jaworski, a former UE star in the 60s, showed up at the Big Dome to support the Red Warriors, who were out to end more than two decades of futility, but even his presence was not enough to spur the Warriors to victory.

The win was the fifth for the Blue Eagles since they joined the countryís premier collegiate league in 1978.

"Experience is the best teacher. We experienced losing to UST in 2006 and we didnít want to experience that again," said Ateneo coach Norman Black, referring to their humbling loss to the Growling Tigers in the leagueís 71st season.

Back then, the Eagles took Game 1 but the Growling Tigers won the next two to bag the crown.

"Thatís something we didnít want to go through again. We didnít want to throw away this season. This team handled adversity well and showed ability to bounce back," added Black, whose charges duplicated the back-to-back feat another Ateneo team accomplished in 1987 and 1988.

"Itís not meant to be, no excuses. We lost to a better team," said UE coach Lawrence Chongson. "They proved they are the number one team, maybe weíre just pretenders."

Center Rabeh Al-Hussaini, despite being double-teamed, finished with another monster game, scoring 21 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to emerge as the Finals Most Valuable Player.

an award that carried a cash prize of P30,000.

Al-Hussaini, who struggled against the defense of UEís Pari Llagas in Game 2, returned the favor, leaving the Warriors slotman scoreless from the field and finishing only with a measly three points, all coming from the free throw line.

"This is my last year at gusto kong maglaro without regrets kaya I played all out. Luckily nag-pay off naman," said the 6-foot-6 starting center, who will graduate along with guard Jai Reyes and power forward Nonoy Baclao this school year.

Reyes unloaded three huge treys to finish with 16 points and Ryan Buenafe added 10 points. Baclao had eight points and grabbed 12 boards.

Egged on by blue-clad supporters who made up most of the crowd, Ateneo went on a scoring binge and scored 12 unanswered points in the second quarter to take a comfortable 40-25 cushion at halftime.

The Eagles continued to pound the Warriors and led by as many as 69-49 on Baclaoís short stab to practically settle the issue with still 3:17 remaining and dashed the hopes of the Recto-based dribblers of winning their first title since 1985.

Paul Lee had 21 points while Elmer Espiritu, a graduating Warrior along with Llagas and Rudy Lingganay, chipped in 16 points.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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