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.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Ateneo 81 vs. Jose Rizal University 71
by Rick Olivares
Photos by Miggy Mendoza

Champions League Match #11
November 21, 2007
The Arena of San Juan

The tale of the tape
Some things never change. As a player, in the mid to late 1960’s, Ricky Palou’s Blue Eagles found every game against Jose Rizal College (as they were known back then) in the eyes of many, a test of manhood. The Heavy Bombers may not have had always the most talented of teams, but they were one of the toughest to play. It was grind it out high intensity basketball. “Trench warfare,” were the words teammate Tito Panlilio used to describe those matches.

The team from Shaw Boulevard might have been accorded “university” status today, but their game remains ever the same. Bruising, physical basket… brawl, er, ball. And JRU’s second year coach Alex Vanguardia wouldn’t want it any other way. Said veteran NCAA sportscaster Butch Maniego, “They found a style they are comfortable with. And it masks their lack of ceiling.”

Jose Rizal is the team the other NCAA teams don’t want to play. Others may have gotten away with a victory but the telltale bruises, fat lips, and welts afterwards told of the struggle to get the “W.”

While in preparation for the Elite Eight Round of the 2007 Collegiate Champions league, Norman Black reminded the team that they had to meet JRU’s physicality with their own. “We need to show and tell them that we’re not backing down,” he emphasized to an attentive squad. “It’s also important to move that ball around to spread their defense. And when we’ve done that, we attack their middle where they are weak.”

Said team trainer Chester Tiongson, “It’s one thing to put your mindset that it will be a physical game as opposed to not expecting it at all. It throws off your game.”

“We’re ready,” said sophomore guard Eric Salamat as the team raced onto the court for warm-ups.

The Blue Eagles were indeed ready, but the actual game in itself was something else. A total of 20 fouls were called in the first quarter that took almost 25 minutes to play with all its stoppages, potential flash points, and free throw shooting. The Ateneo team and supporters traded barbs and jeers with their opposite numbers. “Just like the old days,” chuckled Blue Eagle alum Jimmy Alabanza. ‘No quarter is given.”

Kirk Long was clotheslined by JRU point guard Mark Cagoco, Salamat was elbowed in the mouth, and Bacon Austria was floored by forward Mark Pradas. The crowd howled for the pint of flesh, but no technical fouls were forthcoming. The Blue Eagles slogged their way through the trenches to lead 37-34 at the half.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
With two minutes and ten seconds left in the third quarter, Ateneo led by a point, 52-51, courtesy of consecutive field goals by Blue Eagles’ skipper Chris Tiu. Having just arrived from a national team stint in Singapore, Tiu was in marvelous game shape. However, he still had to unpack his jumpshot from his suitcase as he missed all five of his attempts from the field in the first half.

But by the late third quarter, after he swished his second straight jumper – this one from the right side of the court, Tiu bothered by all the tight guarding and second man-to-man defense by the Heavy Bombers served notice that he would be shackled no more. Vanguardia vigorously instructed his players – JM Wilson and JR Bulangis to mark the Atenean closely.

As Tiu drove hard for the basket, he was bludgeoned but the referees swallowed their whistles. He gave the refs a pleading look for a moment then raced downcourt to get back on defense. Senior forward Mike Baldos pulled down a defensive rebound and was fouled by JRU’s Jayson Nocom. As he trooped to the stripe for a pair of free throws (JRU was in penalty), Nocom told Baldos, “mintis mo.”

The Atenean smiled and coolly canned his first, smiled at his opponent, then sank his second. It was 54-51 for Ateneo and Norman Black’s boys showed that they were not at all intimidated.

Forty seconds later, forward Ken Barracoso, playing with steely verve over the last few games, nailed a dead-eye three pointer to pad the cushion to seven, 57-51. The tide had turned.

Taking out the head and the body
Two years ago, after the NCAA’s Season 82 (where San Beda won its first championship in 28 years) ended, the Heavy Bombers lost their MVP candidate in Floyd Dedicatoria. This past season, with no impact rookies to replace his team’s lost firepower, JRU head coach Ariel Vanguardia wondered who would step up. Think of Ford Arao’s impact on Ateneo’s last season; that’s what their do-it-all forward Marvin Hayes was to his team.

Unfortunately for Vanguardia, Hayes was taken out of the fight right from the opening tip. Matched up against Nonoy Baclao, Hayes took eight attempts at the basket. Four of them – including the first three – were rejected by the long-armed Blue Eagle forward. They were almost even in the rebounding 16-15, but Baclao’s 11 points and 6 blocks were the difference. “He sure made them think twice about taking shots inside,” said Black of his prize forward’s ability to alter opponent’s game plans with his defensive presence (the official tally for his blocks were six, but by this writer’s count, he had eight).

JRU finished in the top four of the NCAA with no small thanks to its point guard Mark Cagoco. He can drive, pop and shoot, stick the three, and dish. A point guard in every sense of the word. He makes this team go. Unfortunately for him, on this day, Cagoco thought he was a linebacker as he tackled and blitzed right through the Blue Eagles and found himself in foul trouble for thinking that he was Lawrence Taylor. It certainly didn’t help his team’s cause as he missed all 11 of his shots from the field.

But this is JRU. They’re the NCAA’s version of National University (read: they haven’t met a three-pointer that they didn’t like) except that these Heavy Bombers are in a real sense “pit bulls” more than NU will ever be “bulldogs.” They are the bomb squad of the grand old league. They jacked up 32 trey attempts and made found the bottom only on 10 of them (we were just as atrocious making 8 of 27).

With two of their cogs cancelled out, Ateneo – Black played 11 of his available 12 players – got significant contributions from just about everybody. Tiu once he got going made five of nine field goal attempts and three out of four free throws in the second half to finish with 16 points. His block on a JM Wilson three-pointer (after JRU’s whirling dervish of a forward nailed two straight threes) with the Heavy Bombers threatening to come back at 79-68 pretty much ended any threat of a comeback. “Good D. Good D,” cheered assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga from the bench with a righteous pumped fist.

Ford Arao, feeling his legs having to play double duty in the PBL topscored with 18 while pulling down 7 boards. Barracoso continued his sterling play with 12 points , 3 rebounds, and 4 assists (including the sweet dish of the game to a streaking Mike Baldos (who put in the right amount of body English for the shot to trickle in) off a foul by Nocom.

After the game mercifully ended, the two teams congratulated one another. A relieved Norman Black thanked his team. “I’m proud of our boys because they didn’t back down and instead of retaliating (to JRU’s roughhousing tactics), they just went out and played good basketball.”

Outside by the players’ entrance, University Athletics Director Ricky Palou shared a smoke and some small talk with the coaching staff and other supporters. “Pare, that was some win,” said the proud yet relieved former Blue Eagle.

Against an old foe with a penchant for rough play.

Some things never change.

Notes: In last year’s champions league, JRU was a wild card entry who knocked out then newly crowned UAAP champ UST on their homecourt and NCAA fourth seed Mapua on their way to a final four match with San Beda who barely knocked them out. This year, they couldn’t work their Cinderella magic on Ateneo that was missing the services of Jobe Nkemakolam and Zion Laterre.

The Blue Eagles will play UST in the Champions League Final Four on Monday, November 26, at 4pm in The Arena. Support the team. Go Ateneo!

Ateneo 81 – Arao 18, Tiu 16, Barracoso 12, Baclao 11, Baldos 7, Long 6, Reyes 4, Escueta 3, Salamat 2, Al-Husseini 2, Austria 0, Sumalinog 0

JRU 71 – Wilson 26, Pradas 13, Sena 10, Nocom 10, Bulangis 6, Se 4, Hayes 2, Cagoco 0, Kabigting 0, Lituania 0

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