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, July 31, 2009

Ateneo Blue Eagles Game #5 Pride

The Blue Eagles are struggling? Not really. We are where we’ve always been.
Ateneo 61 vs. Adamson 51
by rick olivares photo by raddy mabasa

Thursday July 30, 2009
Araneta Coliseum

If you thought the Ateneo Blue Eagles were take to the floor with fire in their eyes and smoke coming out of their nostrils then you would have been disappointed.

After that jarring reality check of a loss to UP, you’d think they flatten the Adamson Falcons whether they are a dark horse contender or not.

Instead, it was their game that was flat. No fluidity. And it’s not as if Adamson’s defense was great. If it wasn’t for a seven minute stretch that bridged the second and third quarters where the Blue Eagles outscored the Falcons 21-6, then that breathing room might have not been enough to hold off the late rally by Leo Austria’s charges.

The loss to UP made other teams look at the game tape to see how Ateneo can be beaten. Well, it still takes a lot of things – the usual great shooting and defense, spotty officiating, and a dollop of good luck. Yet it seems that every year, there is that one loss that sends us spinning out of our axis – sometimes temporarily and at times, well, out of orbit as the Blue Eagles crash and burn.

In 2006, there was at that time that seemingly innocuous loss to UST in the second round. But that propelled them to the title series and gave them the confidence to beat Ateneo. In 2007, there was that second round game to NU that has been talked about ad infinitum. Everyone and their mother know by now what happened. And in 2008, there was that first round loss to FEU where Eric Salamat nearly suffered a season-ending injury. Only Salamat came back and the Blue Eagles found their stride and kicked serious tail.

That brings us to the loss to UP that totally blew the race for the leader board wide open (not to mention making things more interesting). And just when you think that Ateneo was firing on all cylinders after taking the UST Tigers to the cleaners, the Blue Eagles, now an island surrounded by a sea of question marks, are struggling.

But… again… unlike the aforementioned losses to UST and NU that came late in the second round, the last two were in the first and they give the coaching staff a chance and the players to adjust.

Some will make much of streaks – the one that was snapped by UP and ongoing one versus Adamson. At this point, they’re meaningless. As Norman Black is wont to say, “I wasn’t here for half of them. We just try to win every game regardless of who it is.”
And boy do they need to. Against Adamson, who are certainly much better than their 1-4 indicates and were eager to upset the Ateneans, the Blue Eagles were maddening in their inconsistency and poor execution.

One can point an accusing finger to the officiating that without a doubt was horrible (but not yet bordering on the criminal that seemed to plague the league in the past few years). Still that isn’t much.

With all the double and triple teaming of Rabeh Al-Hussaini, it has become imperative for all to contribute. And having Nonoy Baclao chase down the opposing team’s leading scorer has told heavily on our interior defense not to mention his game.

The Ateneo captain’s stats are down as are his blocks. In his first few games last season, the Ateneo captain was averaging 8.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, and 2.6 bpg. In the first five matches of season 72, Baclao is averaging 4ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1apg, and 2bpg.

Against UST he had zero blocks. In Season 70, his first year on Team A, he registered six games with zero blocks. Ironically, he came of age with that freak loss to NU but has since picked up on his scoring and defense. In Season 71, the only time he did not get a block was in UP in the first round.

Consider the players he’s been matched up: Al Ramos, Val Acuña, Dylan Ababou, Woody Co, and Jan Colina. Every one of them scored in double digits as they ran Baclao ragged. And in the five games, we only won the rebounding battle once (but we’ve lost on the offensive boards every time out).

And Jai Reyes, who has been playing hurt, has managed to crack jokes about coming off the bench. But his humor aside, Reyes simply has too much pride not to give up. What made him effective last year was he was taking shots in rhythm, in the flow of the offense. This year he had steadily scored but they’ve come sporadically to not make a huge impact. “I’m not going to make excuses but I have to step up to help our team. Rabeh cannot do it alone.”

But that is why basketball is a team sport. Eric Salamat may not be as effective as he was on defense last year but he is slowly emerging as an offensive force. Salamat helped get the lead in the middle of the game and it was Reyes who finished off the Falcons as his three-point bombs fell at the right time that put out the rally fires of the San Marcelino team.

As the “guy” who replaced Chris Tiu in the starting line-up, he is up to the challenge of bringing that energy to the first unit. It hasn’t been easy but he figures, it’s just a matter of time. When asked if the match against Adamson, where he broke out for 16 points in his best game of the year so far, he echoed Reyes, “Sana tuloy tuloy na ‘to. You know us naman at ako rin, always giving things that one big fight.”

For all the offensive foibles, it is not as grim as it may sound because we’re still on top at 4-1 with plenty of room to improve. In case it has been lost in those great expectations by those who have been spoiled by great Ateneo basketball, the team only began to hit its stride following its loss to FEU in the first round of last year. And the first round isn’t even done.

They don’t have to come out with fire and brimstone. They’ll do what they do best – swoop down on the foe with great inside play and those three-point bombs from the outside.

We’ve still a long way to go.

Ateneo 61Salamat 16, Reyes 10, Chua 8, Al-Hussaini 6, Monfort 5, Buenafe 5, Baclao 4, Austria 4, Long 3, Salva 0

Adamson 51Colina 11, Canuday 11, Cañada 8, Alvarez 8, Nuyles 7, Santos 3, Margallo 3, Lozada 0, Galinato 0, Camson 0, Cabrera 0

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