UAAP finals: Ateneo lifer Matt Nieto comfortable with any role if it leads to winning

After a scorching shooting performance in Game 1, Matt Nieto focused on being a facilitator in Game 2; on both occasions, the Blue Eagles came out with a win leading to another championship. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines—After tallying a career-best 27 points in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 81 men’s basketball finals, Matt Nieto was limited to just six points in Game 2 on Wednesday and yet the Ateneo guard could not be happier about it.

Nieto was the hero of the Blue Eagles’ 88-79 triumph over University of the Philippines in last Saturday’s Game 1, as he knocked down big shot after big shot in the fourth quarter to hold off the Fighting Maroons.

In Game 2, however, Nieto finished with only 6 points on 3-of-9 shooting, though he added 3 rebounds and 5 assists in 26 minutes of action. The Blue Eagles didn’t need him to hit clutch shots, as they routed UP 99-81 to secure a second straight men’s basketball title.

“First quarter pa lang, they put a defensive player sa akin, si Jarell (Lim), but you know that scoring isn’t the first option for me, so I was really happy that they were guarding me, because I can set up my teammates,” said Nieto.

Nieto spent the game setting the table for his teammates, with Ange Kouame and Thirdy Ravena being his primary beneficiaries. The highlight of the game came with 62 seconds left, when he dished off to Ravena for a two-handed jam.

“I saw Thirdy, he was in the zone, so I really tried to look for him,” said Nieto, who added that he would have loved for Ravena to reach 40 points. Ravena, the eventual finals MVP, settled for a career-best 38.

“He really deserves that, kaya binigay ko sa kaniya ‘yung points na ‘yun. Because we know, deserving siya.”

Ravena was no slouch in Game 1, putting up 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. He and Nieto were hailed as the heroes then, but Nieto didn’t mind ceding the spotlight to his teammate for the title-clinching game.

“Sabi niya nga, kaming dalawa ‘yung nagdala ng Game 1. Sabi ko wala ‘yun,” he said.

” ‘Yung Game 2 dapat, gusto ko kahit mababa ‘yung score ko, basta ‘yung lead namin malaki,” Nieto stressed. “Mas pipiliin ko na manalo kami na ‘yung margin (ganito), kesa ‘yung hard-fought game na nag-27 ako.”

“So I will choose to win in a blowout, kesa ‘yung gitgitan na 27 points ako. I will take that every time.”

Nieto, an Ateneo student since the preparatory level, has now won two championships on the collegiate level after winning one title in high school. He is hoping that in his final year in Season 82, he and twin brother Mike will graduate as champions.

“I wanna end my college career on a winning note,” said Nieto. “Kasi after next year, 16 years in Ateneo, I will be graduating already, and I wanna end on a winning note, and I hope that my teammates will be there for me.”

“(But) now, it’s time to celebrate,” he added.

For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.

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