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.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ateneo vs. NU Round One

The Avengers

Ateneo 74 vs. NU 62
words by rick olivares
pix by miggy mendoza

July 27, 2008
Philsports Arena

For the last 10 months, the Ateneo Blue Eagles have had to answer questions about that loss to National University in the second round of Season 70 that gave life to De La Salle and subsequently a twice-to-beat advantage that served them well. “Frankly, we’re sick and tired of hearing about it,” said one team official who refused to be identified.

When asked about it by sports scribes in the Press Room, Norman Black coolly replied, “So you’re still living in the past? We were eliminated by La Salle not NU.”

No matter how the Blue Eagles tried to downplay it, this was a big game. A few months ago, they trashed NU in a practice game at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center. “That felt good but it wasn’t good enough,” said Black then. “We have to take it back on the court come UAAP time.

The American mentor’s wards had a four-game win skein going while NU was going nowhere fast. Bulldogs Coach Manny Dandan was optimistic before tip-off. The Bulldogs had hung tough in the first round of every opponent they’ve played so far. The problem was finishing strong and weathering the opponent’s rally to come especially in the third quarter where things have fallen apart for them. “It’s our general lack of experience and having six rookies,” said Dandan before the match. The season and the game had this sudden urgency to it. Hapless UP, had already a win at NU's expense. Adamson, clearly rejuvenated with the return of Leo Austria to the bench, had a pair of wins and was giving the seeded teams a run for their money. “No excuses," clarified Dandan. "We’re hoping this is the game where we turn things around.”

And turn the game’s results they nearly did. After Nico Salva unloaded a three pointer to end the first quarter Ateneo up 21-15, Ateneo Sports Shooter Nono Felipe, muttered a stern warning. “Kailangan nilang tambakan just to be sure.”

Despite the presence of Edwin Asoro (14 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks) who came to play in this game, what has always defined NU basketball is its outside shooting. They shoot much like the torrential downpour that has deluged the Metro in the last two days. With Jay Jahnke unable to get on track in an almost terrible 34 minutes of play, it was up to Jessey Garcia (24 points) to reprise the role of the graduated Jonathan Fernandez. And he had capable back-up in Elmer Fabula and Chris Catamora. Players like Fernandez, Garcia and Fabula are like Jayvee Casio and UP’s Martin Reyes – they are catch-and-shoot players who give Ateneo nightmares from the perimeter.

And in the third quarter, NU’s waterloo and Ateneo’s strength, for a while it was Garcia versus the Blue Eagles. The Bulldog gunner scored 13 points to Ateneo’s total of 15 points with nine of them coming of a pair of treys and the more conventional three-point play off Raymond Austria. “Laban lang,” he cried out as he accepted a high five from teammate Raymond Aguilar.

With the Bulldogs plethora of shooters arrayed outside the arc, Ateneo’s defense was somewhat stretched. Black sent Eric Salamat back with 4:30 left in the 3rd Quarter.

Salamat is like the Tasmanian Devil on defense. He’s a pest so disruptive on opposing point guards that one has to be aware of his whereabouts at all times. After Chris Tiu scored four straight points to restore some order for Ateneo, Salamat (12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 5 steals), picked Bulldog guard Jerome Tungcul’s pockets and dashed off for a lay-up. It was the third year Blue Eagle’s fifth steal of the game. His first entry into the game at 4:23 of the 1s Quarter turned a 13-8 Ateneo deficit helped Ateneo to a 15-2 wind-up that was capped by Salva’s trey. He continued his larcenous ways in the 2nd Quarter with a lay-up and a pair of steals, one off Jewel Ponferada for a breakaway lay-up and later another off Fabula for an and-one on Jahnke.

As Jahnke headed to the bench in disgust, he muttered under his breath and shook his head. He may have had one of his worst outings in his UAAP career but his teammates were more than willing to pick up the slack. Nine Bulldogs scored.

But beating Ateneo is altogether another matter. One of the hallmarks of Black’s contributions to Ateneo basketball is their steel nerves. There is none of the panic that was characteristic of the team especially during the end game. The Blue Eagles endured a stirring rally by NU highlighted by a pair of blocks by Asoro on Nonoy Baclao and Kirk Long that saw the lead creep perilously close at 62-59 for Ateneo.

NU would only score three more points while Ateneo’s finishing kick netted 12 with Chris Tiu (17 points and 9 rebounds) knocking down Catamora and with all day to shoot, a three for the game’s final points at 74-62 for Ateneo’s fifth straight win.

It was NU’s grittiest game the season thus far but it left them with a gaping 0-5 record and some sullen faces.

Payback,” uttered Eric Salamat with a pumped fist. Just as his defense on the perimeter stymied the Bulldogs, Baclao took care of the inside with 11 boards and 3 blocks (my unofficial count had him at 4). It was a huge victory but one that didn’t come easy. “Nakabawi na kami. No more questions.”

As the vanquished Bulldogs made their way towards their dugout, an NU supporter patted Jahnke’s shoulder. “Good game,” consoled the Bulldogs fan who herself had to keep a brave front.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. They have to answer all these questions on a season that’s going nowhere fast.

Ateneo 74 - Tiu 17, Baclao 16, Salamat 12, Al-Husseini 9, Salva 5, Long 5, Reyes 5, Buenafe 3, Nkemakolam 2, Burke 0, Sumalinog 0, Austria 0

NU 62 - Garcia 24, Asoro 14, Aguilar 8, Fabula 5, Catamora 4, Tungcul 2, Ponferada 2, Luy 2, De La Cruz 1, Berry 0, Batac 0, Galapon 0, Jahnke 0

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