The Blue Albatross
Ateneo 55 vs. Adamson 52
by rick olivares and brosi gonzales
The Adamson Falcons are a top contender for this year’s men’s basketball crown. They could very well make it to the finals and win it all with their talented crew and their miracle worker for a coach. They’ve beaten FEU and La Salle en route to where they are now. But as great as a championship may be, it will definitely be sweeter if they beat the Ateneo Blue Eagles along the way.
The record of futility. The curse. You can call it by any name but it all boils down to one thing – they’re on a losing streak and they know of it. They don’t speak loudly of it. But they are well aware of it.
After the two teams met in the first round, an Ateneo victory 69-66, the Falcons rebounded with a 66-59 win over UP. Second year forward Eric Camson was the best player for Adamson that day as his team went 2-1. Rather than talk about the win over the Maroons, he spoke about the loss to Ateneo which still rankled him and his teammates. They felt that they had gotten the raw end of the officiating and they owed the Blue Eagles one.
Heading into the second round match-up with their forever tormentor, Camson made sure to remind his teammates of what awaited them should they get the albatross, actually the Blue Eagles off their back.
A day earlier, La Salle dealt FEU a second loss and all of a sudden the ramifications of the unexpected loss to UE a few days earlier became painfully clear. Had they beaten the Red Warriors they would have been tied with the Tamaraws for first.
However there was no the time for recriminations. The task at hand was to regain focus for the Sunday main event with the dangerous Falcons in what was going to be an all out war for sole possession of second place in the standings.
“Sila na lang yung hadlang namin,” noted Camson.
But for the Adamson Falcon most eager to take the floor, Camson mostly sat this one out as he was in foul trouble from the start. His teammates Janus Lozada and Lester Alvarez were more than capable of carrying the scoring cudgels as they nipped right on Ateneo’s heels.
Ateneo’s Eric Salamat, Ryan Buenafe, and Nico Salva kept the Falcons at bay with timely hits to take the first quarter 16-10.
Adamson’s revival since the return of Leo Austria has mostly been on the defensive end. “Defense wins games,” Austria would say like just about every other coach in the league. But he’s got the San Marcelino-based squad believing and with stoppers like Camson, Manyara, and Will Stinnett, their stock has gone higher. And the team’s supporters know it as they hung a banner that read: “We need no heroes. We need a team.”
And their team quickly got back in the game as they scored 11 points in the second quarter while holding Ateneo to six for a 22-21 deficit at the half.
Prior to the end of the first half, an Adamson manager noticed that Blue Eagle Jason Escueta was missing the Philippine flag from his trunks. League Commissioner Ato Badolato verified the claim and upon discussion with the two coaches, Escueta was disallowed from further playing in the particular game, two free throws plus ball possession were to be awarded to Adamson, and the game – owing to the new rules where uniform infractions -- will no longer merit a protest and subsequent overturning.
But it was a nervous Ateneo coaching staff that took the floor at the start of the second half that Black had to sit down for a few minutes to steady himself. They had dodged a bullet. In fact, that was twice they were singled out for uniform infractions in consecutive years with the previous one coming from the last season when former center Vince Burke wore the summer jersey that was almost identical to the ones they wore for the UAAP tournament except that it was missing one logo of a sponsor.
Escueta’s ejection saw the Eagles lose focus at the start of the third quarter as the Falcons scored seven straight points to take the lead at 28-22.
Before things could get out of hand, Buenafe and Salva presided over as return salvo that helped Ateneo regain their senses. Buenafe deep deep undergoal stab over the outstretched arms of Nuyles and Lozada got the blue and white gallery jumping out of their seats at the 3:55 mark for a 33-31 lead.
The talented forward also scored on another dizzying up and under move on Lozada a minute later before Emman Monfort closed out the third with a pair of free throws for a 41-34 lead.
The seven-point margin was the largest by either side for the game but by no means were the Falcons finished.
Nuyles’ strapped the Falcons on his back as he scored seven points to level the count at 42-all at the six minute mark.
When Leo Austria is complemented for having the luxury of a talented pair of point guards in Alvarez and Jerick Cañada who both play similar games with an equal impact on Adamson’s fortunes, the coach can only smile. “They will give (FEU’s) RR Garcia and Terence Romeo a run for their money any day of the week.” he said in Filipino.
After Cañada went out after a spill on the baseline, Alvarez came in and lobbed the ball to Lozada for an alley-oop lay-up before embarking on an incredible shooting display to almost single-handedly beat Ateneo.
Like Adamson, Ateneo needs no heroes but a team as well. No other squad in the UAAP shares the ball better than the Blue Eagles.
Prior to the start of the season, as much as Eric Salamat was team captain, the road to a third straight tile largely will be determined by Ateneo’s rookie class of Season 71 in Buenafe, Salva, and rapidly improving center Justin Chua. And in one of the biggest games of the season, Buenafe bucked fouls while Salva played in spite of a dislocated finger to make one huge shot after another in the final four minutes to keep pace with Adamson.
Sparkplug Emman Monfort who missed a free throw down the stretch for Ateneo in the loss to UE, came through this time with a clutch triple and three free throws. Across the floor, Adamson self-destructed when Mike Galinato who was whistled for a moving pick that nullified an Alvarez triple, and a charge by Nuyles on Kirk Long.
The Blue Eagles earned a gritty 55-52 win. It was their ninth win in 12 games for sole possession of second place. Perhaps more importantly, it booked them into the Final Four for a record 12th consecutive time.
And a cursory look at the final statistics will show that Ateneo led at the end of every quarter. But that hardly begins to tell the struggle that at the end of it all, Ateneo head coach Norman Black could only grope for Filipino to express himself. “Talagang ang hirap ng larong ito,” he muttered at the end.
The awesome duo of Buenafe and Salva respectively tallied 14 points, 12 rebounds, and 1 steal and 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 1 assist.
The team effort saw Ateneo outrebound Adamson 51-37. Monfort’s huge triple at the 2:50 mark belied the awful 2 for 12 percentage from three-point country for 16.7% (as opposed to Adamson shooting 7-26 for 26.9%).
Said a relieved Norman Black, “They seemed to know everything that we wanted to do. Buti na lang we also knew what they wanted to do.”
Over at the Adamson locker room, a disconsolate Camson fumed. He was inconsequential when his team needed him. “Bad trip,” he said as a heavy cloud hung over his team’s dugout. “May chance pa naman na magkikita kami sa Final Four or sana sa Finals. Babawi kami.”
Ateneo 55 – Buenafe 14, Salva 13, Long 10, Salamat 7, Monfort 7, Chua 4, Escueta 0, dela Cruz 0, Tiongson 0, Golla 0, Austria 0