Die Hard With A Vengeance
Ateneo 92 vs. UST 66
by rick olivares (pix by my main man Miggy)
Champions League Match #13
November 26, 2007
The Arena, San Juan
Give it back to the man. Reward him for that hustle play with a sweet dish for a reverse that will bring the house down.
Rabeh Al-Husseini, in his best Brett Favre impression, threw a strike to Ken Barracoso from the UST side of the court for a touchdown at the end zone. Only the ball seemed to float out of bounds for an incompletion. But credit Barracoso for not giving up as chased the rock down and saved it to Nonoy Baclao who whipped it back to Al-Husseini (who rushed back down at his team’s 15-foot line). In one motion, the 6’8” center still giving it the old quarterback try zipped it to a cutting Barracoso whose reverse over Tiger Anthony Espiritu would have made LA Tenorio proud. The dazzling lay-up restored a 13-point lead at 87-64 to the Ateneo Blue Eagles with 1:15 left in the game clock and pretty much ended any last ditch threat by UST.
Ateneo was moving on – thanks to its 92-66 victory over its UAAP nemesis – to the 2007 Collegiate National Championships against the University of Visayas Green Lancers.
If the Growling Tigers thought that the Blue Eagles’ round of eight win over Jose Rizal University would leave them tenderized for another physical game, they were sorely mistaken. Already undermanned with Zion Laterre off to Australia, Jai Reyes and Eric Salamat injured, and Jobe Nkemakolam concentrating on his studies, Ateneo found a reservoir of steel resolve and toughness to signify that they weren’t backing down from anyone. Not even when they started out slow and UST spotted them an early lead.
“You can’t be soft,” said mentor Norman Black. “We knew they were going to come out and play physical. They played that way against San Beda so we knew they’d try that with us.”
UST has always fielded a team with a dominating center surrounded by tall and lanky players who can shoot from the outside. Second-year UST coach Pido Jarencio has the luxury of fielding interchangeable players whose size and range can give opposing teams fits. So the Blue Eagles’ game plan consisted of 1) limiting Jervy Cruz, 2) guarding against the outside shot, and 3) not backing down from UST’s roughhousing tactics.
Without a full complement of players at his disposal, Blacks boys put on their hard hats and hunkered down. “The thing about physical games and the PBL kind of officiating is to not veer away from your offense,” cautioned Black. “Don’t let the calls distract you. Of course that’s easier said than done.”
Instead, it was the Tigers who seemed distracted by Ateneo’s willingness to mix it up and their own inability to execute. The Tigers had an early 9-6 lead with Ateneo groping for form but when a forearm shiver sent freshman Raymond Austria to the floor, it woke the team up. “Hindi kami papayag na ganyanin kami,” said forward-center Ford Arao.
The line in the sand drawn, the Blue Eagles immediately attacked UST’s interior. Al-Husseini sent Cruz to the bench when the UAAP MVP fouled him on a follow-up attempt. Arao once more abused the overmatched Mark Canlas and Chester Taylor in the post. And Baclao cleaned up the glass with 11 ribbies of his own as the Tiger’s field goal percentage plummeted. Ateneo seized control after a rough first quarter with a 17-11 lead.
By the second ten, as a sign of how balanced Ateneo is, eight Blue Eagles scored as they threatened to break the game wide open. “Hindi ito boxing match. Wag natin patulan yung panggugulang nila,” Jarencio inexplicably reminded his boys (when they started the rough stuff to begin with) at the half as they trailed 28-40 in favor of the Loyolans. “Kulang sila sa player; atake lang tayo.”
Except while Ateneo got the most out of a line-up where 10 of the 11 players fielded scored, UST seemed to be missing some important production. Jarencio sent all 14 of his players in and only half of them scored. His trio of point guards – Japs Cuan, Jun Cortez, and Hector Badua (the younger brother of former Ateneo Team B swingman Mark Badua) – combined for a total of 35 minutes on the court with only 3 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal to show (they also had five turnovers). In contrast, the Blue Eagle point guards Kirk Long, Yuri Escueta, and Eman Monfort combined for 26 points, 4 boards, 4 dimes, and 4 steals. And oh yeah…1 turnover (that wasn’t even one in the first place).
With UST’s guards out of commission, instead of feeding the ball to the post or involving other players in the game, the Tigers played a lot of one-on-one ball preferring to beat Ateneo with their athleticism.
Cruz, who was in and out of the game with foul trouble and because he got busted up by a Kirk Long elbow to the chin, finished with 8 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes. And the two teams finished with 40 rebounds apiece.
June Dizon, in his last game in a Tigers uniform, was unceremoniously thrown out after consecutive deliberate fouls (the second one came after he retaliated).
“Execution,” said Escueta humbly after the game. “Sabi ni coach, wag magpabaya sa game plan. Just focus on the things we have to do. Thanks sa Lord we got it done.”
Give it back to the man. He was tired having come from PBL practice and yet he played big brother to the team when he saw the Tigers doing their bit of bullying.
After UST’s Dylan Ababou scored seven straight points to spark a possible Tiger comeback to start the fourth and final quarter, the ball was dumped down low to Ford Arao on the post. He missed his bank shot as he was double teamed by Cruz and Taylor. But he pulled down the offensive rebound muscled his way back in for a stab that was pure tenacity. After Khasim Mirza stuck a trey to bring down Ateneo’s lead to a dozen 72-60, Arao scattered six more points; four of them jumpers from either side of the paint’s elbow.
Ford Arao’s team is playing another finals. It will be his last game in blue and white.
Reward the man with a championship.
Ateneo 92 - Tiu 19, Arao 17, Al-Husseini 13, Long 13, Barracoso 9, Escueta 8, Monfort 5, Baclao 4, Baldos 2, Austria 2, Sumalinog 0
UST 66 - Ababou 22, Mirza 14, Allera 13, Cruz 8, Canlas 4, Cuan 3, Espiritu 2, Soriano 0, Cortez 0, Basa 0, Dizon 0, Gile 0, Taylor 0