Hero - UAAP Game 10 Ateneo 72 vs UST 71
Round Two UAAP Season 70
by Rick Olivares
August 30, 2007
Articles of faith
If an Ateneo-La Salle game splits the business world and the national government right down the middle, an Ateneo-UST game cuts across religious orders and a fervor that spans centuries. So you can say that it boils down to faith.
“We still believe,” said a UST streamer that co-opted the slogan that Ateneo has used since 2001.
On the blue side of the coliseum, it was “Lord save this game. Long win this game,” written on a sign held up by rookie Kirk Long’s family, friends, and former schoolmates from Faith… the academy.
Of course God plays no favorites so it’s up to us mortals to decide our fate. Freewill, you know.
Another miraculous finish
Doug Kramer has had perfect attendance in all Blue Eagle games since 2002. That’s five years as a player and 10/14ths of Season 70 as a spectator. “Haven’t missed a game,” said the newest member of pro team Air21. “And I don’t intend to. Honestly, you never know how much you miss something until it’s gone. Playing for Ateneo is something you’ll forever treasure.”
The game had an element of deja vu to it. Sitting in the stands after completing their tours of duty were JC Intal, Macky Escalona, and Kramer for the Ateneo side and Jojo Duncil and Allan Evangelista for UST. All five were major players in last year’s titanic and memorable championship series.
It was Evangelista who canned what seemed to be the final shot of the game with a nasty fade over Kramer for 72-71 Tigers lead. It was Kramer who returned the favor when he sank that point blank stab for one of the greatest finishes we will ever see in our lifetime.
Almost a year later today, with time ticking away, the Espana squad’s version of a microwave, Khasim Mirza, drove the lane and angled himself for a twisting lay-up over the outstretched hands of Nonoy Baclao. 71-70. One for UST. One last time-out for the blue and white.
If you were paying attention during the lull of this down-the-wire thriller, there was an uneasy quiet. Maybe because both sides have seen this before. While the UST crowd which had packed nearly three-fourths of the coliseum silently asked if lightning could strike twice, the Ateneo side prayed for a little history repeating itself and redemption.
Unlike last year where Blue Eagle coach Norman Black had only one second left to execute a Houdini, this time they had 19.3. For those playing defense, that’s an eternity of basketball. For those taking the last shot, those seconds are quicksilver and are heart-stopping.
With Chris Tiu (9 points and 2 rebounds) and Jai Reyes (2 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists) tightly guarded, the ball went down to Ford Arao (20 points, 8 caroms, 4 assists, and 1 block) to see if he could back down Tiger Mark Canlas for a close range shot. The predictable double team arrived immediately and looked to discombobulate Arao. With the play a second away from being botched, Arao who earlier fed Nonoy Baclao (11 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 monster block) for an excellent dime drop, passed off to Long who had drifted off to the right side of the arc. A pump fake on the three-point line ditched guard Jun Cortez but Jervy Cruz rotated over for a possible game-saving block. As the game clock was about to expire, Long faded and as he remembered later, he put a little more spin into his shot in case it was short. The ball hung for like an eternity in its parabolic arc before gravity took over. The ball found the bottom of the net. 72-71. One for the blue and white.
The words of prophets
While the opening game of Thursday’s double-header (another walloping of the hapless UP Maroons by the vengeful FEU Tamaraws) halfway done, Growling Tigers June Dizon and Mirza were loosening up outside their locker room. “Kahit naka-ilang panalo na kami sa Ateneo, hindi mo pwede silang i-take for granted,” said Dizon. “Malaki respeto namin sa team na yan. Pag-Ateneo kalaban mo, itapon mo na lahat ng statistics. Very aggressive sila kahit mga rookies nila. Kaya sabi ni coach, must-win ‘to. Three days namin pinag-praktisan ang Ateneo. Sigurado hindi ‘to tulad ng unang laban. Dikitan ‘to.”
No longer the underdog, UST owned a three-game winning streak against Ateneo including a 87-74 thrashing last August 4. “Ibaon niyo,” was Tigers’ coach Pido Jarencio’s terse game plan.
In that infamous first round encounter where spotty officiating put the Ateneo big men on the bench with foul trouble, the Tigers rode the hot shooting of Mirza to break a close game wide open.
And the second round encounter seemed to follow the same script. Except that the defending champs led for the first three quarters and Mirza was getting a lot of help from Jervy Cruz (22 points and 18 rebounds) and Anthony Espiritu (10 points and 4 rebounds).
For a moment there, in the game’s early goings, it seemed too that UST was all set to end the match before the second quarter even started. With 2:04 left and the Tigers up 13-6 in the first canto, Ateneo coach Norman Black sued for time and did something he never does unless the game is out of reach – he called for a platoon substitution. With errors piling up and field goal percentage plummeting, he sent in a faster line-up of Kirk Long, Eric Salamat, Eman Monfort, Rabah Al-Husseini, and Nonoy Baclao to stem the tide.
And they did.
But whenever they would chip at the lead, Jarencio’s boys would douse the fire with a run of their own. After a Jobe Nkemakolam free throw brought the lead down to seven (from a high of 10), Baclao emphatically rejected an Espiritu drive the next trip down the floor. Except the loose ball found its way back to UST hands. Tigers back up guard Jun Cortez swung the ball back to Espiritu who was waiting in the left corner. Bang. A deadeye trey and the lead was up to 10 once more.
“Ahhhh,” exclaimed Ateneo Sports Shooter Aly Yap. “They’re even getting the loose balls and all the luck.”
The third quarter finished with the score 57-50 for UST and two former Blue Eagles – one with championship pedigree – looked up to the scoreboard and smiled. Brothers Paul and Nonoy Chuatico who both donned the blue and white back in the 80’s, were hopeful. “You know we’re not playing well, but we’re down by only seven,” ventured Nonoy who captained and played on Ateneo’s first UAAP champion team in 1987. “If the defense holds up and if they keep the game close, we’re going to win this.”
And the Blue Eagles opened the fourth with a 13-4 salvo that propelled them to their second taste of the lead (the first was at 2-0) 63-61 behind Arao, Baclao, and Long.
It was Long who gave the lead back to the Blue Eagles with a drive down the middle of the lane part of his nine-point explosion in the fourth. His coolness under fire and willingness to take the shot set the stage for his endgame heroics.
Five years ago, Doug Kramer ran onto the floor to join the pile up over Gec Chia whose buzzer-beating shot sent Ateneo to its second consecutive finals appearance against La Salle. Last year, he found himself at the bottom of a similar pile after an end-game winner of his own doing. This year, sitting at the right side of the patron seats, he found himself running to the court to join his former teammates who were falling over themselves at another improbable finish.
“I’d say Kirk’s was a lot more difficult,” smiled Kramer when asked to compare his famous finish to the one that he has just witnessed. “If you asked me before the match if we were going to win this game, then I would have told you, ‘yes.’ I am that confident.”
You believe him. After all, it boils down to faith.
Old friends still cheering for the Blue & White: photog Joseph Nocos, me, former Blue Eagle Nonoy Chuatico, Martin Lichauco, former Blue Eagles team manager (circa UAAP 80's champs) Cyril Soriano, and former Blue Eagle Paul Chuatico