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.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ateneo Blue Eagles Game 11 Forty Winks

Forty Winks
Ateneo 75 vs. NU 54

by rick olivares

Enter the Sandman
If you fell asleep or were bored to death watching Ateneo whitewash National University yesterday then you should be more like the Blue Eagles who were wide awake and every bit attentive to what was going on the court.

No matter what the score.

The game is to slay the Archers, the Bulldogs, and the ghosts of Maroons past. The objective is a twice-to-beat advantage. And the ultimate goal is a championship.

Ateneo, for over a decade now has made the final four every year with remarkable consistency. The team has made the finals five times this decade and come away with two championships and they could annex one more before it’s all over.

Yet conversely, they give up a shocking loss almost every year.

There’s no need to even mention Season 70 and the misfortune that befell the team after they became a Bulldog bite victim late in the second round. The Blue Eagles got their revenge last year and in many more encounters after that. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be lulled into another false sense of security. The coaching staff made sure that there was to be no let down.

Inside NU’s dugout, there were exhortations of ending the season with a bang. But darned if they believe they could accomplish it. The repeated beatings have taken its toll on the young squad. And perhaps too, on their longtime coach Manfred James Dandan whose voice croaked with emotion as he coaxed, cajoled, and tried to will his team to one more victory.

Except that they are up against the defending champs who are out to annex Ateneo’s sixth back-to-back title. Damned if they are going to allow anyone to scuttle their ambition.

Dazed, confused, and the dubious
After the Bulldogs’ Kokoy Hermosisima hoisted a three-pointer to give NU its only taste of the lead at 3-0, the Blue Eagles put the clamps and the dog collar on their foes.

Ateneo’s starters -- Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Eric Salamat, Kirk Long, and Jai Reyes -- showed their flummoxed foes the entire repertoire of shots from post-ups to dime drops and drives to the hoop.

On the defensive end, they wreaked havoc on NU with a defensive intensity akin to their blowout of La Salle in the second round. Even when Bulldog guard Michael Luy tried to post up a smaller Reyes, the ball never found its way inside and NU was instead whistled for a 24-second shot clock violation.

And when everyone looked up from the carnage, the score stood at 16-3 in favor of Ateneo at the end of the first quarter.

The three points were the fewest ever scored by any UAAP team in the first quarter. But don’t toot your horn just yet. The record for scoring futility in one quarter belongs incredibly… to the Ateneo Blue Eagles. The blue and white scored a measly 2 points in the 3rd quarter in a second round tiff with… NU on August 28, 2003.

Now you know the valuable lesson of never taking the Bulldogs lightly. The children of the Dark Ages know that all too well as a squawk was left in their throats when NU threw up a Hail Mary shot of their own to win by a point at the buzzer.

Yet in this game, it seemed that the hapless Bulldogs would need Divine Intervention to chalk up some points.

After more than 14 minutes of throwing up bricks, it was the seldom-used NU rookie Ronald Roy, who broke their embarrassing silence with a trey to make it 28-6 time down to 6:22 left in the second quarter.

As if things couldn’t get any worse for Dandan’s boys, 2 minutes and 17 seconds later, Ateneo’s entire starting unit trooped back onto the floor. And when they were done, the score was 42-10 at the end of the first half.

The game was practically decided after the first canto with only the final score and margin to be decided.

The lowest points scored in a half were ironically by this same Bulldogs team last August 1 when they put up only 12 markers in the first half of their first round match with Ateneo.

Twenty-six days later they once more ran into an Ateneo team that was beginning to fashion out crushing victories on its opponents. Barring another meltdown, the Blue Eagles already had this one in the bag. They held NU to only four field goals at a ridiculous 14% accuracy rate.

Wake from thy slumber
A cursory glance at individual statistics will show the numbers of practically the whole team to be down. The only ones to raise their personal stats have been guard Emman Monfort and forward Nico Salva. In many offensive categories, Ateneo’s numbers are down. But this team is a nasty defensive unit and that’s how they rule.

With the rapid improvement of Nico Salva and the reinvention of Kirk Long as a stopper, the one player everyone has been waiting for to explode is Ryan Buenafe. After the loss of Chris Tiu to graduation and eligibility, he has been tasked to bring down the ball on many an occasion and try and set up teammates for a shot. His defense, previously unheralded, has been stifling. But that’s the least of what he brings to the team. Ever since he joined the squad, he brought with him a primal urge to dominate. And it has made for an even more competitive atmosphere during practice.

During one particular one-on-one drill at Moro Lorenzo, he found himself matched up with center Vince Burke. With the drills timed by the assistant coaches, the last one to complete the task is supposed to drop and do some pushups. Buenafe called out Burke and used his forefinger to make the slitting of the throat sign. The American nodded and the drills commenced. Burke lost the little duel and had to not only kiss the floor but he had to endure Buenafe’s friendly trash talk.

Yet when Season 72 kicked off, Buenafe found himself laying a big goose egg on several occasions. On this day versus NU, he finally had that breakout game. And for the first time since he was in fourth year high school, he notched that big game – this time in blue and white -- as he compiled 23 markers, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in only 17 minutes of action!

The team’s American mentor Norman Black couldn’t be more pleased because his bench players were already finding their groove and making their presence felt on the court. With the reemergence of Monfort and Salva in the first round, he had two more weapons in Long and Buenafe to add to a team that was already bristling with firepower to a team that was hungry for more.

When Black was asked about the significance of Buenafe’s reemergence from his slumber, the Ateneo coach pointed out to his prized player’s myriad gifts. “He’s been playing defense, bringing down the ball for us, and setting up his teammates,” he underscored.

Added Jai Reyes of his teammate, “He’s got the complete package and it’s good that he scores because he will add to our options.”

Right. All the better to put them to sleep.

Ateneo 75 Buenafe 23, Al-Hussaini 15, Sumalinog 7, Reyes 6, Tiongson 5, Chua 5, Salva 3, Monfort 3, Long 3, De Chavez 3, Gonzaga 2, Salamat 0, Golla 0, Burke 0, Baclao 0, Austria 0

NU 54 Hermosisima 19, Baloran 10, Ponferrada 6, Donahue 6, Terso 5, Roy 3, Roy 3, Luy 3, Singh 2, Manito 0, Magat 0, Fabula 0, Cabaluna 0, Batac 0

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