Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

UAAP S82: Finding consistency is the name of the game for UST and FEU

UAAP S82: Finding consistency is the name of the game for UST and FEU
by rick olivares

After 10 games, any coach would have worked out the kinks and inconsistencies in one’s game. UST followed their thrashing at the hands of Ateneo by dealing UE with their worst loss of this year. That should have been the game that turned things around for them yet they fell to FEU, 72-58.

If Ateneo checked Soulemane Chabi Yo, it was the Growling Tigers who held their center in check when they opted to fire away from beyond the arc as if the three-pointer was fast going out of style. Chabi Yo played all 10 minutes and had no attempts from the field or the free throw line. He did grab three rebounds and issued one assist, but that was it. In the meantime, UST jacked up 14 treys and made five. 

The problem is, FEU made five triples too – all in the crunch.

UST lived by the three… and well, died by the three.

Luckily for them, La Salle was dealt a crippling loss by Ateneo last Sunday that dropped the Green Archers down a notch from fourth to fifth.

Now, they face a must-win situation against UP on Wednesday.

A word on UP. I think it is great that the league commissioner decided to waive the final game suspension of Fighting Maroons head coach Bo Perasol. I do not believe that he should be left off the hook as this is the second consecutive year that he has been tossed for complaining. And both times against Ateneo and both non-calls were correct. 

This is actually the second time that the length of suspension was commuted. Back in 2010, Feu women’s football coach Kim Chul-Su was banned. Yes, banned, by then UAAP football commissioner Jojo Rodriguez for attacking a referee following a contentious loss. The Korean and three of his players physically ganged up on the referee. Mysteriously, within a few games, Kim was back on the bench. 

Intramurals on the court and in the boardroom. That is also what the UAAP is known for.

Earlier during the first round, the Growling Tigers looked really good. Even in their loss to Ateneo in the first round, they still looked good. Their losses to Adamson (in the first round) and their blowout losses to Ateneo and FEU in the second round have certainly take shine off that luster. 

Speaking of consistency, the poster team for that in this Season 82 are the FEU Tamaraws. The Jekyll and Hyde Tamaraws looked lost to UP in the first round then rallied only to fall short. They looked really bad against Ateneo then defeated La Salle. They lost to cellar dweller, NU, but won against streaking Adamson. They defeated UP in overtime to start the second round then lost to last place NU again. 

To further illustrate their predicament – FEU is second in team defense but dead last on offense. It has been an up and down season also for their veterans Wendell Comboy,  Barley Eboña, Alec Stockton, Ken Tuffin, Rey Bienes, and Hubert Cani. 

Three of their four scoring leaders are young players in LJ Gonzales (who doesn’t do well in the clutch), Xyrus Torres, and Pat Tchuente.

Imagine that – FEU won with Tchuente scoring only one point (although he did grab 11 boards but was mostly ineffective). 

The question facing them when they take on La Salle this Saturday is… what Tamaraws team will show up?

They were in fifth spot before the last weekend’s matches. That win coupled with the losses of UST and La Salle saw them jump to third spot. A win will see them hold on to that spot. But they have to be at their absolute best if they want to fulfill their semi-finals ambitions in this most trying of seasons.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Ateneo-La Salle 2nd round 77-69 The Art of War Wong

The Art of War Wong
by rick olivares

I’m going to point out three reasons why the win over La Salle is a big deal.

Having said that, we’re going to jump to reason #3.

And that’s Adrian Wong.

When Adrian came up from Team B, he was this strong finisher. He was fearless and didn’t mind taking it to the fir trees of college basketball. Those images were replaced by the Adrian Wong who sobbed on the bench when he bungled a lay-up that could have sent Ateneo to the finals but instead fell to FEU that eventually won the title. Then there he was lost to a knee injury before the next season could start.

Wong watched from the sidelines as Ateneo overcame a Ben Mbala-powered La Salle team. How ironic for the team to win when he went down. He did return for the back-to-back title run, but wasn’t himself yet as he was still on the mend and finding his way through Tab Baldwin’s system. During the back-to-back celebrations, I watched as Tab Baldwin gave him a huge and thanked him for his contributions. Wong was happy. Buoyant even to have finally won a title. But the competitor deep inside wanted to show more.

Virtually everyone in the starting five has had their moment. Against La Salle this second round, it was Wong’s turn to take the spotlight as well as embody Ateneo’s “Next Man Up” philosophy.

And this season, he has. His old daring self has been replaced with a silent but deadlier model. Opponents tend to forget him in place of the big name others. Like Will Navarro… it is a colossal mistake. Along with Navarro, they have given the Blue Eagles a lift offensively and defensively. 

In his return during Season 81, Adrian averaged 1.7 points and 1.0 rebounds per game. This year, he has slid into Anton Asistio’s slot and supplied the exact points per game that the former did – 7.2 points per game. Assists and rebounds are also the same (1.0 something for both plyers). On defense, Wong has three blocks this season while Asistio only had one in his final playing year. Three-points-wise, Asistio finished with 31 treys while Adrian has rifled in 14 in 10 games. 

During one final tune up match before the UAAP tipped off, Wong drilled a number of huge shots against another college team. Post-game, he deflected the praise and offered it instead to his teammates for finding him at the right time.

His barrage of shots (including his strong start to match the Green Archers of which Tab Baldwin later acknowledged) including the killer trey at the end of the second round match against La Salle is proof (he finished with 18 points and one assist) as Ateneo improved to 10-0 with the 77-69 victory.

As for that victory… the last time Ateneo had a five-game win streak against La Salle was from Season 74-75 where the Blue Eagles won all four elimination round games and the final four of the tail-end of the five-peat. 

How big a deal was this win?

For one, at 10-0, Ateneo assured itself of a Final Four seat and the twice-to-beat advantage that comes with it. Only second running UP can catch them as they have a game at hand at 6-3. How they finish will tell who takes the top seed. If Ateneo wins its next assignment on Wednesday against FEU, they would have wrapped up the number one seed. 

Second, the win over La Salle – coupled with FEU’s 72-58 win over UST – throws a huge monkey wrench into the middle of the pack.

UP is at 6-3.
FEU vaulted to third at 5-5. 
UST is at fourth also with a 5-5 record. 
La Salle fell to fifth with a 4-5 record.
Adamson has a ghost of a chance after their 72-53 win over National University as they are 4-6. At this point, all they can hope for is a play-off for the fourth and last slot (and that other teams lose as well). Hell of a way to try and continue their streak of three consecutive semis appearances under Franz Pumaren.

Only UE and NU are out of it. At this stage, all they can do is better their finishes.

UP looks to get back at first round tormentor UST on Wednesday (October 16) then Adamson on the 20th. They face NU on the 23rd, La Salle on the 27th, and Ateneo on the 30th

FEU’s final games – in order – include Ateneo (October 16), La Salle (October 19), Adamson (October 23), and UE (October 27). That is a murderer’s row right there. Three big games and the last one, the Battle of Recto.

UST plays UP (October 16), NU (October 19), La Salle (October 23), and Adamson (October 26). The Bulldogs nearly beat them last time around and they will be playing without pressure. Adamson’s fate won’t be known until they play on the 20th against UP. They could still be in or out by the time they face UST.

La Salle looks to go back to fourth spot when they take on UE on Wednesday (October 16). Except, the Red Warriors defeated them last time around. There is double motivation for them to get this W. The Green Archers then face FEU on the 19th. Except you don’t know what Tamaraws team will show up. UST is on the 23rd and UP on the 27th

The onus on these three teams is to catch UP. 

Adamson’s next assignment is UP on the 20th. They take on FEU on the 23rd, UST on the 26th, and La Salle on the 30th

And third, you have to go back to the top which is where Ateneo is right now.

That spot has been won through superior defense, superb coaching, and a team that knows what it needs to do. They kept Jamie Malonzo silent for one half. That sequence where La Salle needed a basket and Aljun Melecio and Andrei Caracut did not have daylight to shoot – that is as close to art you will see on the hardcourt. The art of defense. 

And not calling time late in the game if not the entire fourth period? Brilliant.

It’s a good win, but right now, that doesn’t mean anything… without that ‘chip.

Onto next.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Fil-Am wrestler TJ Perkins on his homecoming

Fil-Am wrestler TJ Perkins on his homecoming
by rick olivares

Philippine Wrestling Revolution: Homecoming was done. The roster of professional wrestlers had gone to the back to shower or to grab some food. One wrestler stayed behind. It was Filipino-American wrestler Theodore James “TJ” Perkins who headlined perhaps the greatest non-World Wrestling Entertainment pro wrestling event in Philippine history.

The 35-year old Perkins, acknowledged as one of the world’s best technical wrestlers and a cruiserweight star, hung out with the fans who hoped for a selfie, an autograph, or to chat some. He just figured in a grueling match against “Mr. Philippine Wrestling” Jake de Leon that ended when he reversed a submission hold to defeat the homegrown hero, and yet, here he was... spending time with the fans.

“Remember, I was a fan once upon a time” Perkins made sure to underscore. “So, this means a lot to these fans. It isn’t like I am always here so the fans spent money and took the time to watch me so I can do no less.”

“The reception was everything I expected and more,” said a tuckered out Perkins whose body was covered in the confetti that rained down at the close of the event. “When I started out wrestling, I used the nick name ‘Pinoy Boy’ which is something another Filipino-American friend of mine used between ourselves. But as I climbed the ladder of pro wrestling, I had to play different personas including Japanese and Mexican wrestlers. But every chance I got, I used ‘Pinoy Boy’. I know in pro wrestling, the characters and storylines are big, but I try to push my Filipino ethnicity as much as I can.”

Even while Perkins was with the WWE, he always took the time to follow the nascent PWR. “I think between that old Pinoy wrestling Federation in the 1980s and the PWR, there was nothing so you can imagine the excitement that PWR was generating,” observed Perkins. “From afar, I have been proud of their efforts. After my release from WWE earlier this year (February 2019), this homecoming was firmly in my radar. I had to do this not only for my family but for Filipino wrestling, if my presence here along with Jeff Cobb helps ignite the local wrestling scene then this trip is a winner in many ways.”

Even before the main event against Jake de Leon, Perkins would steal peeks at the ring action and listened to the crowd’s roar. “The scene here is definitely growing and it is fun being a part of this I felt like a kid all over again when I first got into wrestling around the time I was 18 or 19 years of age.”

For now, Perkins is back with New Japan Pro-Wrestling which is where he first started out in 2001. Said the 5’10” wrestler, “I think the one thing I have learned since I began wrestling professionally is you will never know where you will go. I am just grateful for the opportunity to do something I loved as a kid for a living.”

Is there going to be a repeat performance in a PWR event?

“I sure hope so,” smiled Perkins. “We’ve got a revolution to continue.”

Thursday, October 10, 2019

TJ Perkins, Jeff Cobb graces PWR: Homecoming this Saturday, Oct. 12

TJ Perkins, Jeff Cobb graces PWR: Homecoming this Saturday, Oct. 12
by rick olivares, photo by hub pacheco

Filipino-American professional wrestler Theodore James “TJ” Perkins and Ring of Honor star Jeff Cobb will headline Philippine Wrestling Revolution’s Homecoming event this Saturday, October 12, at the ABS-CBN Vertis Tent in Quezon City.

With top international talent headlining the event, PWR Homecoming is projected to be the biggest non-WWE wrestling spectacle in the country to date.

Perkins, who made a name for himself wrestling in TNA (Total Non-Stop Action), WWE, and New Japan Pro-Wrestling and is currently working the independent circuit matches skills with ex-PWR and Philippine Excellence Champion Jake “The Senyorito” de Leon. Cobb on the other hand will figure in a three-way match for the PWR Championship with Quatro and former two-time champion, Chris Panzer involved. 

The appearance of Perkins and Cobb will be a high water mark for local professional wrestling promotions. Something PWR has been very keen about.

“That has been the mantra of PWR,” said Jan Imbat, vice president for the promotion, “Put up action-packed shows filled with athletic feats, comedic shows, compelling storylines, and engaging characters that all fit to the taste of the Filipino market.”

How big of an impact has PWR had?

PWR has built a loyal fanbase who regularly attend the 11 shows they put up annually (they have organized a total of 52 heading into PWR Homecoming). “We have been blessed to have a loyal fanbase of 300-350 person who attend every show from the Bayanihan center in Mandaluyong to the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Taguig. The real challenge lies in finding the balance in bringing in new eyes while keeping our current fans.”

Three of their wrestlers -- Crystal, Jake de Leon, and Ken Warren -- were invited to a WWE tryout last July 2019 in Shanghai, China. 

Professional wrestling has grown by leaps and bounds over the past several years. Promotions in Australia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand have all been put up and are growing. 

Elucidated Imbat, “Through good working relationships with promotions with our Asian neighbors, everyone has built fanbases in our respective countries.”

The result is PWR Homecoming, an event five years in the making. Perkins who has never been shy in displaying or talking about his Filipino heritage, is an exciting high-flyer. Jeff Cobb is a legitimate Olympian having represented Guam in the 2004 Olympics. Their presence on fight night adds a lot of star power to PWR and Filipino professional wrestling.

“This,” pointed out Imbat, “Will be the culmination of what we have been building over the past five years. And we hope that this helps bring more awareness to the local scene and turn Filipino wrestling casuals into becoming (dedicated) wrestling fans with PWR.”

My thoughts about Ateneo's 2nd round win vs Adamson

When I think of the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ 80-74 win over the Adamson Soaring Falcons last Wednesday at the Big Dome, it is good. 

Now with all due respect to the vanquished, this should have been by a bigger margin.

A part of that final margin can be attributed to the determination by Val Chauca and Jerrick Ahanmisi to rally their side. On the flip side, had Angelo Kouame played better, this would have been another spanking.

Granted he is young and not having fully reached his potential so you can somewhat let him off the hook Still it is surprising to see him indecisive at times and in being so, missing a lot of point blank stabs. And that’s two consecutive matches where he submitted a sub-par game. 

As I said, it has its good and bad.

Good because Isaac Go, Will Navarro, and Matthew Daves rose to the occasion.

Bad because, La Salle is up next and you know they are more than taking down notes. During the first round game, Kouame had a difficult time with the double-teaming and repeated attacks inside by the Green Archers. The onus is on him to break out and help his team against the streaking Green Archers. 

Ateneo’s defense was brilliant for the most part.

None the better when they forced successive violations late in the first quarter. 

At the 7:30 mark, the Blue Eagles forced an eight-second backcourt violation. Matt Nieto made them pay with a triple in the opposite end. In the next possession, they forced Adamson into a five-second inbound violation. 

The score at that point was 12-4. But two missed shots by Kouame that sandwiched a turnover by the Ivorian saw Adamson claw back, 12-8.

Late in the fourth period, Ateneo once more flashed its defensive fangs as Navarro blocked Chauca and converted on the other end to make it, 71-61. Ateneo then forced a 24-second shot clock violation. 

As for Adamson forward Simon Camacho… he isn’t the same after Kouame rejected all his love letters. It was Will Navarro this time who rejected two of his shots (he also fumbled a few others due to nerves).

With the score, 75-66 after a Kouame bucket, Ange turned the ball over that led to a Matt Nieto foul that was assessed an unsportsmanlike foul. Jerrick Ahanmisi hit both free throws. 

The defense on Chauca was very good. They limited the Fil-Peruvian to six points on 2-3 shooting. He didn’t have any daylight. There was that spotty foul called on Adrian Wong late in the game that saw Chauca troop to the line for a pair of free throws.

Ateneo then fumbled their way into a 24-second shot clock violation because of overpassing. Shockingly, Ateneo left an unmarked Ahanmisi open and the Adamson sniper drilled a triple to make it 75-71. Matt Nieto then hit two free throws as Adamson missed a bad shot. Adrian Wong tacked on one free throw to end the game. 

As good a win as it was, it was a bit annoying to allow Adamson an opportunity to steal it. 

It was also just annoying to see an Ateneo supporter become a side show when he refused to give the ball back to the referee (he was almost sent out for his trouble (wrongly though I must say). We do not need to be obnoxious. Teams are already trying to knock us off and the last thing we need is an ugly Atenean. The crowd was correct in telling off the refs and security but did this need to happen?

Back to the game.

I like how Thirdy was attacking that rack. If he plays like this, he is close to unstoppable. 

I’d like to ponder Mr. BIG -- Big Isaac Go as well as Will and Chew.

This was Isaac’s best effort this year. He was solid on defense and he hit some big shots. 

Will is finally fulfilling his promise as a big time player. He plays both ends of the court and I am just waiting for him to posterize someone. No, not that kind of dunk that he threw down against UST in Season 81 (over Zach Huang), but the one during Filoil Preseason Cup where he swooped in from a difficult angle then dunked on a couple of guys. They weren’t expecting it and it was a highlight play all right. 

Navarro finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 1 steal.

And there is Daves. Five years ago when I first saw him in the NBTC National Finals, I gave Joe Silva and Epok Quimpo a call (I was then working for the group as its media officer). I said they have to see this kid who was like a tank. He attacked the basket, could hit the trey, and would dunk on people. Then I helped arrange for that meeting inside the MOA Arena. I said this kid is going to be our power forward of the future. And Chew has been getting minutes (as I expected) and is starting to make an impact. Ateneo will need him versus La Salle that could possibly be a preview of the finals. 

It was a tough but good win. But you have to like it. As poor as the offense has been at times, the defense has been soli

A firm response by UST and that Larry Bird-like praise

A firm response by UST and that Larry Bird-like praise
by rick olivares

The University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers bounced back from its loss to Ateneo with a massive beat down of the University of the East, 101-73. The triumph helped UST gain solo third place in the standings with a 5-4 record. Just a game ahead of 4-4 La Salle while Far Eastern University and Adamson University were dealt crippling blows also in the day.

FEU lost to National University in overtime, 85-79, while Ateneo held off the Soaring Falcons, 80-74.

The Growling Tigers throttled the Red Warriors from the opening tip behind the hot shooting of Sherwin Concepcion (two triples and a floater in the lane). They displayed the fluidity that marked their first few games of the first round with every UST player getting into the act. The Tigers put the clamps on UE’s Rey Suerte who only squeezed off 10 shots making three and 3-4 free throws (he averages 14 shots from the field plus seven free throws per game). Suerte finished eight points off his season average. Alex Diakhite did his best to carry the load, however, it didn’t bother UST as they posted a lead that went as high as 34 points! His back-to-back turnovers in the second frame didn’t help as UST never let up.

Post-match, UST head coach Aldin Ayo attributed the victory to certain measures he put in place such as management bringing over the families of players to help them cope with the pressure. Ayo cited the expectations heaped upon them as a problem that was good and bad. But with a young team, they struggled to manage the pressure. With family coming over and going back to basics during practice sessions leading up to the UE game, this allowed the team to exhale and breathe.

The result was the most lopsided win of any team in this UAAP Season 82 men’s basketball tournament.

Leave it to Ayo to figure out something for his team. 

Coach Aldin has been the recipient of a Larry Bird-like pronouncement (when the NBA great said that ‘I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan’ after the latter torched the Boston Celtics for 63 points in a first round play-off game). 

After the Ateneo Blue Eagles squeaked past UST in the first round, 71-70, the latter’s coach, Tab Baldwin expressed that the Growling Tigers’ tactician “is a blessing for Philippine basketball, and the UAAP.”

It isn’t faint praise. Ayo is the only coach to win consecutive collegiate titles in separate leagues having won with Letran in 2015 in the NCAA and La Salle in the UAAP the following season. In his first year at UST, his Tigers finished sixth with a 5-9 record. Shedding much of the team he had inherited, he has this squad in contention for a Final Four slot and basketball fans and analysts heaping praise on the team he has put together without the moneyed machine he had in DLSU. 

Ayo’s showing and record and the praise does elevate him. In a very competitive and small circle, how many have such praise heaped on them by peers, analysts, and fan alike?

It does help UST in a lot of ways in terms of rebuilding a reputation that has taken a beating in the last several years for so much on and off-court drama. It could also help in recruiting. 

More than the praise, wins like these restore confidence. 

UE is no slouch as they were riding a two-game win streak. If they want to figure for a slot (play-off or otherwise) for the Final Four, they have to win their last five matches which is a tall order. So this was a damaging loss.

When the Red Warriors tried to make a go of it, graduating senior Zach Huang hit a lot of timely buckets (especially after Concepcion’s guns fell silent). Huang finished with 22 points – he scored 14 in the second half of play -- to go with five rebounds and one assist. 

This was one game where they simply dominated. They scored more fastbreak points, 16-5, and second chance points, 25-16. The scored 21 turnover points to UE’s 11. Plus, they dunked twice on UE. That means you’re getting inside the lane and they pounded the Red Warriors, 42-34.

It does propel them into this Sunday’s (October 13) match versus reeling FEU. With La Salle taking on undefeated Ateneo and UP going up against UE that needs to win, the UST Growling Tigers have a chance to climb the tables once more. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Ateneo defeats UST: A defensive masterpiece

A defensive masterpiece.
by rick olivares

What are the images that you can associate with the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ 66-52 win over the UST Growling Tigers?

There was Renzo Subido scooting for what seemed to be one of the easiest baskets all day for a fastbreak lay-up. Subido was several steps ahead of his closest pursuer when Ateneo Blue Eagle forward Will Navarro appeared out of nowhere to erase the shot. 

There was an entry pass by Subido to center Soulemane Chabi Yo who used a pick to get inside the lane. Only Matthew Daves was there to meet him and he not only blocked the leading-MVP candidate’s shot, but he also ripped the ball away from him igniting a fastbreak.

There is that late triple by SJ Belangel with a split second left in the shot clock.

Perhaps more importantly, there is that first quarter stretch when both teams were struggling to score and Angelo Kouame went to the bench with two early fouls. This time, the second unit was able to seize a slim lead unlike against La Salle and UP where they lost it. They more than held their own with Gian Mamuyac, Matthew Daves, and Tyler Tio – he hit some big shots -- all chipping in. Every player who got sent in contributed something to the stat sheet. They held on and played well even without Kouame on the floor.

I like how Tab Baldwin sent in Matthew Daves and he immediately scored. Then there was his huge block on Chabi Yo. Wait until Chew gets even more confident and that ball regularly. He is going to posterize someone.

After the win over UP, you could hear disgruntled UP fans harp about the officiating and how Ateneo only gets by because of Kouame – both are ridiculous but that’s what the sour grapes will always say). Ateneo really did a number on UST – holding them to their worst shooting game in eight matches (28% from the field). 

Their usual sparkplugs – Chabi Yo, Renzo Subido, Rhenz Abando, Brent Paraiso, Sherwin Concepcion, and CJ Cansino were held down. Only Mark Nonoy could find a way to score. And when he did, Ateneo always had an answer.

Conversely, Kouame didn’t have a good scoring game. Ditto with Will Navarro. But Thirdy Ravena and SJ Belangel were up to the task.

There’s that anxiety heading into the game because everyone knows how good and talented the UST Growling Tigers are. Many said that Ateneo was lucky to escape with a one-point win in the first round. 

Well… this was an emphatic response to that especially post-UP. It is a very good 66-52 win that placed the Blue Eagles at 8-0 while dropping the Growling Tigers to 4-4. It was a defensive masterpiece where they bucked the physicality of the Growling Tigers.

And there is a better flow now to them than in games past. They didn’t force too many outside shots. They pounded UST inside (34-16) and scored two points less from the perimeter (26-28) but that is because of Nonoy’s late flurry. They also outscored UST 16-9 in second chance points.

Every win over UST leaves me with a good feeling. The loss of 2006 will be there for eternity, but every pounding they take dulls the pain. 

Onward to the three-peat.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Ateneo crushes UP: A game of moments and the next man up

A game of moments and the next man up.
by rick olivares

There’s that moment… at the 2:38 mark of the fourth period. The ball goes down the post to Adrian Wong who is being guarded by UP’s Juan Gomez De Liaño. Wong wraps a behind the back bounce pass to a cutting Matt Nieto who goes hard. UP’s Bright Akhuetie challenges and probably forces the miss. Javi Gomez De Liaño loses sight of Will Navarro who is outside the box. The second year Blue Eagle forward swoops in and as he did on two other plays in the first period puts back the miss for a bucket, 79-58, Ateneo.

The Fighting Maroons call for time. Nieto chest bumps Navarro who has taken up defensive position just right about the halfcourt line. There’s the teamwork, unselfishness, and the explosion of emotions of a team on a mission.

There’s also the movement.

Flashback to the first period at the 7:04 mark, Nieto has the ball at the left corner pocket with UP’s David Murrell on him.  Navarro, Angelo Kouame, and Thirdy Ravena are all outside. Wong is underneath the basket with UP’s Jun Manzo on him. 

A missed jumper by Nieto will mean UP has the inside track on the rebound with Kobe Paras, Akhuetie, and JD Tungcab watching for any incursions. In one motion, Wong clears out heading into the right corner. Manzo whirls around and gives chase. It is that exact moment that Nieto blows by Murrell and goes hard to the basket. Akhuetie and Tungcab do not realize what is going on. Paras reaches in but he too is too late. And-one, 8-5, Ateneo. Tungcab claps his hands knowing they botched that defensive possession.

Among the eight starting point guards in the league, Nieto plays the fewest minutes outside NU’s Enzo Joson. Others play longer minutes and take more shots. But no one is more efficient than Ateneo’s court general. And he isn’t even in the Top 10 in terms of assists and assists to turnover ratio. You will find him second in steals. But in perhaps that unofficial stat in the pass that leads to the assist, you will find Nieto (that is a stat that is gaining popularity in football – the pass that leads to the assist).

Furthermore, he knows how to get his teammates into the game. No one set up Anton Asistio better than Matt. And with Thirdy struggling this first round, he gave that perfect bounce pass to Ravena for a lay-up that helped him get going. That is something the other point guards in Tyler Tio and SJ Belangel need to learn in a hurry -- to dibble less, and create plays for their teammates.

Navarro is another… everyone knows what they are getting from Kouame and Ravena (for a while he looked like he was headed for another bad game but he played well in the second half as he began to attack instead of settling for jumpers), but 6'5" forward is crucial to Ateneo's game plan, rotation, and title aspirations.

In the preseason leading up to Season 81, Navarro was starting. He had his moments but largely struggled losing his spot to Raffy Verano. With Verano unavailable, Navarro has stepped up. In his one year playing for San Beda, he would rifle in shots from the outside (usually the top of the three-point arc). He would oft get chastised for that by then head coach Jamike Jarin for not making good decisions with the ball. This year, he has been crucial. After Kouame, Thirdy Ravena and Navarro are the next shot blockers with six apiece. Once more after Kouame, and Gian Mamuyac, he has the third best field goal percentage on the team. His strong play and quiet efficiency has helped Ateneo to its unblemished run.

While in their six previous games, Ateneo got the job done largely through their defense, this was the game – the law of averages, I suppose – where their offense blew the opponent away. Ateneo shot 48% from the field, was 10-14 from the free throw line, and hurt UP from inside (52-28) and outside (27-19).

Yes, the 1-3-1 zone befuddled UP, but the offense was devastating.

They flashed it versus Adamson in the very first game of the season. They blitzed La Salle then stepped off the gas pedal. This game, they went full throttle for an 89-63 win to go to 7-0; the last undefeated team in the league.

In the biggest match of the season (so far), Ateneo was up to the task. While they get up for all foes, they have heard what has been said that UP is ready to unseat them with their cavalcade of stars.

The problem is, they are facing a team. A team where everyone knows their role and they are on a mission.

No discussion about the game cannot pass without that incident where UP head coach Bo Perasol was tossed for consecutive technical fouls after he charged into the referee over what he thought was a non-call after Kouame’s block on Jerson Prado. Coach Bo is a very good friend of mine, but I must admit that it was disappointing. That was in the midst of an Ateneo run where they led by 12. Whether there was a foul or not, he shouldn’t have exploded like that. There were botched calls on Akhuetie as well (see his non-offensive foul on Adrian Wong for one). I can imagine the pressure he is under and I feel for him. Whether it was done purposely to get his team fired up or he was really pissed or even both… well, it backfired. 

When he was coach of Ateneo and he charged into the stands after he was heckled by a La Salle fan, I was right behind him. I had his six. We have remained friends even after he moved to his alma mater. For this game, I thought that the frustrations were boiling up. They were staring at a rout and well, it left a bad taste in the mouth. 

And to think that this is just an elimination round game. 

With many teams clogging the middle of the pack, the second round is going to get a lot testier.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A NU Bulldogs class

A NU class
by rick olivares

After the National University Bulldogs crushed the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 61-39, last week in the ongoing UAAP season 82 Men’s Basketball Tournament, the former’s head coach Jamike Jarin brought the entire team to the media room for the post-match press conference room.

Not only was that a first to have an entire team to bask in the afterglow of a badly-needed win, but it was classic Jamike Jarin. 

Since he came up with the Ateneo Blue Eaglets where he won a smattering of titles (he also won coaching the San Beda Red Lions in the NCAA), he has never placed the spotlight on himself. He would only stay for a minute or two to be interviewed then turn it over to his players.

Jarin though has always been one of the most quotable coaches. His quotes are funny and insightful as is his basketball mind. One of the game’s characters, I do hope his team does better because he does deserve better.

The Bulldogs are at the lower tier of the standings with a 1-5 record, but they could easily be at 5-1 had they not crumbled in the final minute of play in four of their five losses.

I have reasoned in the past and have done so this year that these Bulldogs are still too young. Last year, with players like John Lloyd Clemente and Dave Ildefonso coming up, it was learning to play together. Look, save for one or two players everyone else was the man on their respective high school teams. Finding their place on the team or knowing their roles isn’t something that can be accomplished overnight. That takes a huge paradigm shift. 

This season, I have maintained that it is finding their legs – meaning I still don’t think they would do well. It is by next season where they will finally gain some traction. It depends also what movements are made in the off-season.

I think this team is one solid power forward from seriously making a game out of it. Jonas Tibayan has played better this year, but he needs to be more consistent. He will given a bit more exposure and him gaining confidence. 

I wasn’t crazy about the addition of Troy Rike as a one-and-done player. That was a gamble. I thought that NU would have been better served had Tzaddy Rangel, Matt Aquino, and Tibayan been given more minutes. Am not saying that in hindsight. I am just not crazy at this rule of one-and-done players because it does make a mockery of the college game. 

Looking at this NU team and having closely followed them since the 1980s (I do have a lot of history with this team as their late coach Sonny Paguia was my neighbor and I have been close friends with Manny Dandan and Eric Altamirano and have also worked with the school in some capacity), I think they are on the cusp of being a very good basketball team. They will add a few more pieces, but this is a good team.

If their junior players in Carl Tamayo, Kevin Quiambao, and Gerry Abadiano move up, that will give them even more help. 

Yet, that is in the future. By no means is the season over for these Bulldogs. They have to keep on winning ballgames to have that chance for a Final Four slot.

It would be nice to see Jarin bring the entire team again for that post-match presser. Maybe more.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Kingston retains WWE title in Manila

Kingston retains WWE title in Manila
by rick and anthony olivares

MANILA -- Kofi Kingston survived a devastating barrage of kicks by challenger Daniel Bryan to retain his WWE Smackdown title belt to a roaring Smart Araneta Coliseum crowd last Friday, September 20.

Kingston was literally on the ropes when Bryan, a multi-titled winner in his own right, rammed the former’s shoulder in to the corner ring post. Bryan stepped up his challenge with multiple kicks to the chest and head. On Bryan’s third running kick, Kingston pulled out at the last second and summoned the last amount of strength he had for his finishing move, Trouble in Paradise, a thunderous kick to the head that laid out the challenger.

The Ghanaian-American Kingston wasn’t the only one to retain their title belt on Friday night. 

Japanese whirlwind Shinsuke Nakamura was also pushed to the limit by Ali before retaining his Intercontinental title. Nakamura seemed to have taken Ali lightly as the latter dominated portions of the match despite constant interference from the Japanese star’s buddy, Sammy Zayn. 

Nakamura got the three-count off a Kinshasa that leveled Ali in what was arguably the best match of the night. 

Feeling good with himself and looking to make it two-for-two for the night, Zayn called out any wrestler in the WWE’s locker room for a fight. Much to his dismay and surprise, the 6’3” Roman Reigns answered the challenge. It took Nakamura’s interference to make a fight out of it, but the hulking Reigns speared Zayn to win the match.

Women’s Champion Bayley defeated Charlotte Flair in a Streetfight match. Despite refusing to engage in a table match, Bayley made use of chairs and a kendo stick to try and inflict damage on Flair who dominated most of the match. Bayley got the pinfall when she rammed the daughter of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair into a steel chair.

Flair got the last word in when post-match action, she threw Bayley twice on to a table that refused to break. 

In tag team action, the duo of Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder, known as the Revival, defeated former champions, the New Day after the former stunned the Big E when he knocked him into an exposed turnbuckle. 

Despite the largely pro-New Day crowd at the Big Dome, the Revival, held on to the belts for the seventh consecutive month since taking the title belts from Bobby Roode and Chad Gable.

In other matches, crowd favorite Kevin Owens used a stunner on Andrade for the night’s first victory.

Carmella defeated Mandy Rose despite the constant meddling of Sonya Deville, and Chad Gable forced EC3 to submit via an ankle lock.

As Gable celebrated the win with special ringside announcer R-Truth, who held up the former’s arm in victory, EC3 sneaked up on the latter for a pin that awarded him the 24/7 title belt that R-Truth held. To atone for his not being to watch R-Truth’s back, Gable hunted down EC3 and bundled him into the ring for R-Truth to pin thus giving back the belt to the fan favorite.

Thousands of fans packed the Smart Araneta Coliseum for the WWE event. The last time the WWE was in Manila was in June of 2016. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The ring’s the thing for WWE’s Bayley

The ring’s the thing for WWE’s Bayley
by rick olivares

Professional wrestler Bayley (whose real name is Pamela Rose Martinez) entered the function room at the Marco Polo Hotel. She was able to get a good night’s sleep and she feels refreshed. 

“I think by mid-day I’ll feel some of that jet lag kick in,” pointed out the current World Wrestling Entertainment Smackdown Women’s Champion. “All I need is the crowd’s rush to get me through.”

It wasn’t too long ago when Bayley was growing up in California a pro wrestling fan. “They were larger than life heroes,” she said. “They wore these colorful costumes. Wore masks. Had outlandish entourages and oversized personalities. Our comic book super-heroes in the flesh. I was enthralled as a kid.”

Now she’s on the other side of the ring with millions and millions of fans following her every match, every Instagram post, and more. 

“It’s crazy. I always wanted to make fans feel that magic in atmosphere and what I experienced,” said Bayley. “It trips me out to see kids and even grown men wearing shirts with me on them. I don’t think I will ever get tired of it.”

However, Bayley echoed some sentiments bared by fellow WWWE stars Kevin Owens and Ali who graced a roundtable discussion with media a few hours earlier. 

“Our schedules can get really crazy and we t times are caught up in bad situations or even mood swings,” bared the WWE’s first Triple Crown or Grand Slam Champion having won women’s titles in all three promotions – Raw, Smackdown, and NXT. “As for me, I have to think three or four times before I say something because I could regret what I will say or even do. I have a six-year old and a 13-year old nephew watching too. And I would hate to give them a wrong impression that being a WWE superstar has gotten into my head.”

It is actually satisfying to see and hear a celebrity like Bayley talk not only being a role model, but also being concerned for the unfortunate instead of wrestling history all the time. “I do love pro wrestling and it has been good for me, however, I must remember that without this opportunity, I wouldn’t be able to experience all these things.”

One of the responsibilities of being a WWE superstar is doing a lot of charity work especially during big events such as Wrestlemania or Summer Slam. “With the WWE, we get to go around and go to places such as and children’s hospitals that is really special for me.  It is a big deal to spread joy, spend some time with kids who are battling way more heavier things that we can ever get worked up inside the ring. Outside wrestling never knew I could do that so I love doing this charity work.”

Doing charity work isn’t the only other thing in Bayley’s life that gives her a purpose. What drives Bayley is being at the forefront with her fellow WWWE wrestlers Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Carmella, Mandy Rose, and Peyton Royce to name but a few to carry the fight for gender equality. “Women have always been a huge part of pro wrestling and the WWE. They may not have gotten the spotlight they deserved, but the reason why we are here is because of Trish Stratus, Victoria, Lita etc. They paved the way for all of us. And the fact that we are seen as main eventers and appearing on the cover of video games is cool and fortunate for us. So this is a great job.”

Being a WWE superstar means constant travel and being on the road for much of the year. Every chance she gets, she returns home to her fiancée, Aaron Solow, and their Maltese Shih Tzu, Flex. 

“Flex the best,” enthused Bayley. “I had dogs growing up. Flex is my fiancée’s dog so he is like mine as well. Flex travels a lot with us and has even been on the ring!”

It’s a tough business, but I am loving every moment of it,” summed up Bayley. “Who says dreams cannot come true?”