A devastating momentum shift
Ateneo 65 vs. Mapua 56
by rick olivares with pic by brosi gonzales
November 25, 2010
San Juan Arena
A basketball game is played in spurts with key moments that are capped with a turning point that decides the match.
In the quarterfinals match between old-time NCAA rivals Ateneo and Mapua, the key moment was at the start of the third quarter when an elbow was thrown by Cardinal Erwin Cornejo that hit Blue Eagle Kirk Long in the jaw. That begat a vociferous protest from Ateneo’s bench that was followed by a warning for “improper bench decorum” by the referees.
It took a minute for Long to gather his wits. When the Blue Eagles trooped over to their side of the court, Eric Salamat slapped his hands and said, “Let’s go!”
The battle – the game – had been joined. The elbow had woken a still off form Ateneo team out of their lethargy. Although the Blue Eagles held a 32-30 lead at the half for a while there, it seemed that the Cardinals would send them packing for the rest of the year.
With their shooting off and the defense slow to react to a double high post screen for Mangahas, the Blue Eagles found themselves down by 15-points 12-27 after the latter dropped two free throws with six and change left in the second canto.
Then Long, arguably the team MVP of the last UAAP season got untracked. In one of his best offensive games of the year, the senior forward scored (for a game high total of 23 markers, 5 assists, 2 assists, and 2 steals) on a variety of kamikaze drives, offensive putbacks, and a couple of those patented three-pointers where he pulls the ball back as if he were cocking the trigger before bang – game barker Rolly Manlapaz goes ballistic.
Long had as many points – 12 -- as the entire Mapua team in the second quarter. And his teammates chipped in eight of their own to take the lead on a huge spurt. Some members of the television production crew were so awed by the almost effortless comeback where the Blue Eagles flashed their championship mettle. “Tinambakan sila tapos ganun lang hinabol nila. Ngayon lamang pa.” remarked a disbelieving cameraman.
At the half, Ateneo head coach Norman Black made known his displeasure about some players’ tendency to look for their own shot or be slow on their defense assignments. “I don’t care how many championships we’ve won but I want to win,” he enunciated. “We’re not going to win with the way we’re shooting so let’s play defense.”
That wasn’t going to be easy. Last summer, the Blue Eagles played the Mapua Cardinals for the Fr. Martin Cup title. It was a bruising affair at the St. Placid Gym in San Beda’s grounds. In fact, the Philippine Collegiate Champions League match was a carbon copy of that game that Ateneo won – an early Cardinals lead, Ateneo roars back, get gets rough, technical fouls here and there, and an Ateneo sprint to the finish line for the win.
But if the Blue Eagles want to defend their national championship, then they had to get their heads together.
Nine minutes after Cornejo’s elbow decked Long, it was Cardinal center Mike Parala’s turn to introduce JP Erram to his joint. The Ateneo back up center was hit in the face and his retaliation was the one caught by the officials.
A minute later, Long was hit again in the face this time by Jonathan Banal and this time the benches stood up. Salamat shoved Banal* and the luckily, officials and cooler heads prevailed.
Ateneo had a chance to make a statement but Salamat missed a triple. On the other end, it was Mangahas who stroked a triple. And at the end of three quarters, the Cardinals had regained the lead 46-42. But if they thought they had the Blue Eagles on the ropes they had another thought coming. The near fisticuffs and the salvo from Mangahas lit a fire underneath the mostly lethargic boys from Katipunan.
Not soon after, the Blue Eagles forged the sixth and last deadlock of the game at 49-all following a layup by Long off a bounce pass by Emman Monfort. Nico Salva got another layup off a terrific forward pass by Monfort and the pint-sized point guard scored on a floater in the lane.
And just like that the momentum and the game had clearly swung Ateneo’s way.
On the defensive end, the shut down the high pick-and-roll game of Mapua as the Blue Eagles adjusted “like a rubber band” to borrow Black’s term. Mangahas who torched them for nine points on that play alone in the first 30 minutes now had zero.
The shaded lane where Mapua made their living with the putbacks and post plays of Mark Sarangay and Macky Acosta was shut down (22 points in the first half and 6 in the final 20 minutes) and the Cardinals had to find their business from the stripe.
From the 8:38 mark of the fourth, the Cardinals scored only seven points to Ateneo’s 16. Of the seven Mapua points, five came from the free throw line. Their last field goal came a minute and then some after Sarangay made an awkward putback for their last points in a 65-56 Ateneo win.
Following Monfort’s floater, the team received a buffer of points following a technical foul on Mangahas who cussed out an officials. They scored four points in that crucial call (Nico Salva was fouled at that time with Mapua in penalty). After all the free throws, Ateneo was up 57-49.
Just as it was in the Fr. Martin Cup title game where Frank Golla knocked down a triple that was a blow to the gut of the Cardinals, Monfort hit one of his own for a 63-54 lead with 2:33 left that knocked the wind out of their dogged foe’s sails.
And the Blue Eagles were moving on.
Ateneo 65 – Long 23, Salva 12, Monfort 11, Tiongson 7, Golla 6, Chua 2, Gonzaga 2, Salamat 2, Escueta 0, Erram o, Austria 0 dela Cruz 0
Mapua 56 – Mangahas 11, Sarangay 9, Parala 8, Banal 7, Acosta 6, Ranises 5, Pascual 3, Cornejo 3, Ighalo 2, Guillermo 2
* After Salamat shoved Banal, the Blue Eagle pointed to the Cardinal as if to show the officials that the latter started the near-mêlée. That incident got both teams off their benches. While there were no free throws attempted after the respective technical fouls were called, the episode clearly lit a fire under the Ateneans. Said the Blue Eagle captain afterwards, “Wala na nga akong ginawa muntik pa nagsimula ng away.” Of course he chipped in with 2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal.