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.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ateneo vs. UE Round Two

The Ripleys
Ateneo 61 vs. UE 57

by rick olivares

August 21, 2008
Araneta Coliseum
Be honest, most of us thought we’d plummet to loss number two. And this time, no one can point any accusing finger at the referees (that’s what happens when Ateneo gets screwed more times than Jenna Jameson) because the game was more or less well officiated.

The fact that the UE Red Warriors went to the free-throw line only three times should be a dubious record of sorts. Yet for all their vaunted inside game, the Warriors were forced to try their luck from outside and from beyond. And while they shot slightly better at a cumulative 34% the Ateneo Blue Eagles scraped their way out of a hole on 29% shooting. And believe it or not, in the last three years, Ateneo is 13-4 in games decided by four points or less thereby gaining a reputation as the Houdinis of the Hardwood. So if there should have been any side that should have chanted, “Ginebra” in honor of the team that embodies the never-say-die spirit, it should have been the one in blue. So it was perhaps an affront to the basketball gods that the red gallery deigned to curry any favor in a venue where less than 24 hours, the darlings of pro basketball won their ninth PBA title. Maybe then you would have noticed some left over confetti floating in the venue during a match that had all the ambiance of a title match.

The Red Warriors threw a constantly shifting zone that discombobulated the Ateneo attack en route to 21 turnovers. From a 2-3 zone the defensive scheme would morph to a 3-2 as forward Hans Thiele would help out on the perimeter then would recover to double team. When Rabeh Al-Hussaini received the ball in the post, UE threw him different combinations. The double team would either come from the weak side on one possession (depending on how far he established himself for a post play) or from the guards who would sag and swipe at the ball. And teams like UE, long and athletic, have always given the Blue Eagles problems.

But believe it not, it was Rabeh Al-Hussaini who continued his sterling MVP-caliber season by throwing down the hammer on his second dunk of his UAAP career instead of UE’s Elmer Espiritu who always seems to raise the roof with some spectacular flush.

Three hours earlier, Espiritu stared down the tunnel in the back of the Araneta Coliseum as his teammates stretched and loosened up in the back. The UP Pep Squad was finishing their halftime show. Along with his teammates, they’ve talked amongst themselves about last year’s stinging loss in the finals and the new season that has turned awry after Ateneo dealt them their first loss in Match #3 for both teams. In the days leading up to game day, UE minder Dindo Pumaren made sure his wards understood the implications of the game. At 6-4, they needed the win to fortify their position for either the third or fourth slots in the Final Four. Although they were two games ahead of UST (with UP having a slim chance of barging in), nothing was to be left to chance. “We have to win every game from here on. Treat it like a championship game,” said the former La Salle guard who has proven to be every bit a good coach as his older brothers.

“Handa kami,” pronounced Espiritu. “Handa kami sa Ateneo.”

The thing about playing UE is the high level of energy they bring to the game. In typical Pumaren-style, they are superbly conditioned and like to play a frenetic full court press where they attack at you in waves. While the Blue Eagle braintrust expected such a tactic (after all, La Salle and UE have been throwing us the same game plan year after year), they too were prepared for an offensive letdown. “We’ve had some pretty good games for awhile now,” said Norman Black who was all grins inside the Press Room after the match. “And they played good defense on us. But I like to think that we play good defense too.”

A quick glance at the game stats will show how almost evenly matched the teams were:

Total rebounds:
Ateneo – 48 (13 offensive)
UE – 46 (13 offensive)

10 each

Ateneo – 3
UE – 4

21 each

Second chance points:
Ateneo – 11
UE – 7

Turnover points:
Ateneo – 6
UE - 12

So with Caloy Loyzaga who’s in town on a two week vacation and in the house to watch the fortunes of his old school foe with his son Chito (who also studied in the Ateneo), what was the big difference?

Leo Austria, who benched his lead players (don’t call them stars to the coach’s face because as far as he’s concerned, they haven’t done anything to deserve that tag) in a massive statement over team discipline, summed it up in one word, “Heart.”

Then he added: “That’s comes from school pride, team discipline, the intelligence of the players, and good values. ‘Yan ang difference.”

But the Blue Eagles were getting flustered. When a rebound scuffle ended in a jumpball with Al-Hussaini and Thiele getting entangled and exchanging dagger looks, the other players jumped in. Eric Salamat and James Martinez swapped sweet nothings and Dindo Pumaren stepped right in earning a technical foul in the process.

As the referees assessed the situation, Elmer Espiritu stood at center court and stared down at the Ateneo side. Recalled the forward-center after the game, “Hindi kami magba-backdown sa kanila. Laro lang.”

The altercation only fired up the Warriors more as they finished the 3rd Quarter with an Espiritu lay-up at the buzzer 42-36.

After Marcy Arellano hit back-to-back baskets to further push UE ahead 46-38, Ateneo skipper Chris Tiu (at that point superbly defended and with only 9 points), buried his team’s first three point shot off his fourth attempt of the game.

Espiritu responded with two more points and the ball was handed over to Ateneo frosh Ryan Buenafe who to make something happen. Buenafe has not played well for quite a spell now. The recruit from San Sebastian has found the college game to be wholly different from what he played in high school. If he was Mr. Triple Double there here he was getting triple-teamed. Foes have learned to prevent him from getting that deceptive first step and to force him to his left. With his outside shot having all but deserted him on UAAP courts, Buenafe got the ball outside the rainbow bridge. He hesitated a moment before he uncorked a spiral that had good form and line towards the bottom of the net. Down to a four-point UE lead and the rook threw a punch in the air and let out a scream.

Back on their end of the court, Espiritu called for isolation, but Nonoy Baclao who engaged him in a fierce defensive battle, forced a turnover. The advantage UE has is almost at anytime they have players who can stick the outside shot. If their foes play man-to-man, they run a series of back-picks to free up either Martinez, Paul Lee, or Paul Zamar who weave to confuse the defense. Ateneo on the other hand runs two back picks for Tiu and with Zamar a second late in giving chase, the captain of the Blue Eagles hit his second trey 48-47 still UE.

And after Hans Thiele gave UE some respite to spot UE a three-point lead, Tiu who occasionally engages his teammates for a game of horse and trick shots nailed an off balance shot with 13.6 seconds left to forge a tie. UE fumbled its throw in thanks to some great defense by Yuri Escueta and although Ateneo was unable to get a decent shot off before overtime, the tide had turned. There was still some Black magic in the air.

Espiritu, in a state of disbelief, looked at the jubilant Ateneo side, shook his head, and headed back to his bench. What does it take to put away these guys, he wondered.

Believe it or not, there’s this old basketball axiom that says if you can’t win it in regulation, then it’s not for you.

With Tiu out of the game with cramps, it was up to Ateneo’s starting frontline of Buenafe and Baclao on the wings and Al-Hussaini in the middle to carry the load.

The Ateneo center responded with six straight points to notch the fifth and final deadlock at 57-all before Buenafe got the ball from 23 feet out and guarded by his ex-Staglets teammate Paul Lee. After he ditched Lee with his patented crossover, he drove in and over the flailing arms of Thiele and Espiritu for the deuce at 59-57. An Arellano turnover and an Espiritu foul on Baclao gave Ateneo’s one-man SWAT team a chance to ice the game with two free throws and the Blue Eagles’ latest escape act and win.

Inside the Press Room, while Norman Black was all smiles over the huge win, Tiu stretched his cramped leg and answered a few questions directed at him. “We never gave up. I think that’s this team’s character and what Coach preaches to us all the time.”

So how about that last trey?

“Yeah we practice that… sometimes. But I just threw it up.”

So Coach Leo, you’re right. It’s about heart but you’ve got to have faith too.

Ateneo 61 - Al-Hussaini 19, Tiu 18, Baclao 10, Buenafe 6, Salamat 6, Baldos 2, Salva 0, Nkemakolam 0, Long 0, Escueta 0, Reyes 0

UE 57 - Zamar 13, Martinez 11, Thiele 10, Espiritu 8, Arellano 8, Llagas 4, Lee 3, Noble 0, Lingganay 0, Bandaying 0, Reyes 0

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