Ateneo 83 vs. NU 58
by rick olivares
Do you believe in payback?
Do you believe in ghosts?
Do you still believe?
And good teams would want a little payback… in spades. Last year, the Blue Eagles fell to UE in the third game of the tournament and it precipitated a minor skid. The blues slammed the brakes and put on a five game win streak of their own to barge into the second season but not before falling to UE again. This year, the Blue Eagles blanked the Red Warriors in both rounds and have claimed the top spot for about two months now.
But it was the shock overtime loss to NU in the final game of the elimination round that threw a monkey wrench into the Big Blue Machine. And although they bowled over the Bulldogs in succeeding tournaments and in the first round of Season 71, here they were again dancing to the same song. While in public, members of the team and the coaching staff have said that they’ve all moved on, privately, they wanted this game for NU was once more in the spoiler’s role position. And the game presented itself as getting the proverbial money, er, bulldog of their backs.
For NU, it has been another disappointing year. While probably not a Final Four team, they are definitely better than their 2-10 record. And before they call it a season, they’d love nothing better than to claim another title favorite (as they did to FEU earlier in the second round) as a dog bite victim. “Protektahin natin ang bahay natin (the shaded lane),” exhorted NU Coach Manny Dandan to his wards prior to the start of the game. He also reminded his team of their penchant for being giant-killers. “Believe in yourselves,” he concluded.
Dandan had been sick over the last few days after he read his team the riot act after a series of disheartening nuclear meltdowns by his squad that should have very well been wins. What started out as nothing more than a simple case of laryngitis had metastized into an infection. But with their coach back in harness, his team was sure to come out snorting into hungry junkyard dogs.
Ateneo had paid attention to the Bulldogs’ near upset of FEU for a second time (but they fell short 64-60) and they knew they’d be a handful. The Blue Eagles may have five rookies in tow but the veterans have long memories and they remember those ghosts of failures past.
So today, as Jobe Nkemakolam likes to remind his teammates, “is all about taking care of business.”
After Jai Reyes buried a jumper to seemingly put the game beyond reach early on at 21-7 many figured the team was on its way to a merry rout. Instead, the Bulldogs showed their bite.
It began with an innocuous block by Cris De La Cruz on Nonoy Baclao where the overeager Bulldog gave the Atenean a stare down. Baclao smirked at him and it stoked his competitive embers. A couple of plays later, the Ateneo forward smothered De La Cruz and he returned the stare down.
And from thereon, it escalated into a sneak preview of Wrestlemania as the Raymond “Cheesedog” Aguilar* knocked Ryan Buenafe on his ass then planted an elbow drop on the Ateneo rookie that the referees caught for a technical foul. Then Aaron Galapon got it on with Jobe Nkemakolam and Edwin Asoro began planting elbows on just about everybody else.
It seemed for a while the relevant scoring was on cheap shots and taunts rather than baskets. It’s a damned mystery why the referees’ tend to blow their whistle on ticky tacky and even phantom fouls when during the instances they need to clamp down, they’re quiet.
Surprisingly, the Bulldogs found the physical nature of the game more to their liking as they dropped a 22-8 bomb that saw them take the lead 32-31 with four minutes left in the second quarter. After Jay Jahnke gave his side their only taste of the lead, Ateneo showed their mettle by closing out the second quarter with an 18-6 run off a three-point fullisade of three-point bombs (four coming from Chris Tiu, Jai Reyes, and Eric Salamat) for a 49-37 lead. The run gave the Ateneo Lifters the chance to open the halftime cheering with their customary comedy cheering routine.
In the dugout, Norman Black pointed out that his team was getting beat off the dribble. “Stay in front of your man and help each other out,” he reminded his squad. “Play team defense. That’s what got us here.”
In the opposite locker room, Manny Dandan once more stressed the importance of hanging tough in third quarter, the Bulldogs’ bane thus far. And they did as they kept pace by scoring 11 points to Ateneo’s 12 in the third.
And once the fourth quarter began, the Blue Eagles turned the ball over to Vince Burke who is never gun shy and to MVP-candidate Rabeh Al-Hussaini to turn the game into a rout. The Ateneo center scored on a variety of jump hooks, jumpers, and put backs over Aguilar and Asoro to put the game beyond reach at 75-53 at the 5:05 mark. The rest of the game was a formality as Ateneo won its twelfth game in 13 matches 83-58. “Quits na,” nodded Al-Hussaini after the Blue Eagles slew the ghost of last year’s ill-fated drive. “Bawi na. Now it’s time to focus sa Final Four para makapasok sa championship.”
There were two goals when the blueprints for the newfangled Ateneo basketball program was put in place in 1998. The first was to make sure that the recruits would get a good education and a diploma and second, it was to make the Final Four of every year. Anything else including a championship was gravy. For all the changes and modifications, the Ateneo basketball team is not built to win a championship year after year, but as the saying goes, we aim to give it that old college try.
It was a smiling Norman Black who entertained questions about the Blue Eagles’ win that assured itself of the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four. Like a kid who has been gifted with an expensive toy set, he allowed himself a smile. “We’ve put ourselves in a good position to make the finals,” he grinned. “But we got a lot of work to do if we want to win the championship because you’re playing the best teams in the league now.”
When one writer pointed out that Ateneo was thus far the best team in Season 71, Black smiled and said, “It’s you guys saying that. Let’s talk again when this is all done."
Ateneo 83 – Al-Hussaini 20, Tiu 16, Salamat 12, Reyes 11, Buenafe 9, Nkemakolam 4, Baclao 4, Long 3, Salva 2, Burke 2, Gonzaga 0, Chua 0, Baldos 0, Escueta 0
NU 58 – Asoro 19, Galapon 7, Luy 7, Jahnke 6, Tungcul 4, Aguilar 4, Berry 3, Magat 2, Batac 2, Garcia 2, Catamora 2, Dela Cruz 0, Ponferrada 0
Note: Raymond Aguilar was branded as "cheesedog" by barker Rolly Manlapaz after the Bulldog power forward who asked to be monickered "King Bulldog" instead had a dud of a game.
Regarding the title, it really wasn't inspired by the rap artist but by that Scottish band Simple Minds. Was listening to them a lot while writing this and I kinda love "Ghost Dancing" which is about apartheid in South Africa. There. Now you know.
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