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.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ateneo-FEU Round One: EF1

This appears in

by rick olivares photo by brosi g

The game wasn’t simply for a first round sweep or to stay behind the early season leaders. It was far from that.

At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, the rivalry in the past decade, has not been Ateneo and La Salle. That’s the traditional rivalry, yes. But if you want a white-hot derby, it has been Ateneo and FEU. It's been fought from the hard court to the pitch and all the way to the UAAP board room.

Quite simply, there has been bad blood. From accusations to complaints to a history of match-ups, it's been so much more than simple sports.

First it was all about sports. There was the shocking loss to FEU in 1999 Final Four even as Ateneo had a twice-to-beat advantage. Then after the Tamaraws waylaid the repeat-seeking Blue Eagles in 2003, the Tamaraws went about quietly building their own dynasty while Ateneo waited for another chance at the Morayta-based team.

That took a turn for the worse when that spilled over to the juniors football competition where the two schools squared off in three consecutive finals. During that time, there was a boardroom battle where FEU argued that the finals meeting should have gone to a best of three (blatantly disregarding the tie-breaker rule that gave Ateneo the twice-to-beat advantage). That argument continued in the boardroom where harsh words were exchanged.

But in an uncanny display of short memories, FEU actually was awarded a twice-to-beat advantage in the same situation a few years earlier. The trophy stayed in Loyola Heights while FEU seethed until they took the title after three tries.

There was a previous year's basketball tournament where FEU officials leaked to the press that former Blue Eagle Jobe Nkemakolam was ineligible. While nothing came of that having been dismissed in a board meeting it did set the tone for further confrontations. There was also the Mark Barroca incident that clouded an Ateneo-FEU tiff. And there was last year’s finals match-up that broke thousands of hearts in Morayta and sent huge cheers in Loyola as Ateneo celebrated its first three-peat since 1931-33.

That was not the end of it as the two once more met during the quarterfinals of the Filoil Pre-season tournament where FEU was toting a 9-0 record while Ateneo was chugging along at 6-2. When the dust had settled, Ateneo was moving on to its first Filoil title while the Tams were done for the summer.

In the weeks preceding Season 74 of the UAAP, there was the farcical voting that took place surrounding Greg Slaughter’s eligibility; a touchy boardroom incident that was started with FEU’s prodding. Slaughter was eventually allowed to play but only by the slimmest of margins at 4-3. Though it was a “victory” for Ateneo it was the Jesuit school’s officials and followers who seethed. And so this first round match up, to put it rather bluntly, was an eff-you game. Bad bloodlines and all.

The Tamaraws were coming off a loss to the University of the Philippines one they unintentionally branded a "practice game." Worse, they were a man down as the rugged Mark Bringas was sent off during that match against the Fighting Maroons for his constant roughhousing.

However come game time, it was played on pure skill.

Both starting units checked each other in the first half but it was the Tamaraws with the surprise package of Christian Sentcheu who put a momentary hex on Ateneo counterpart Greg Slaughter while Terrence Romeo scored six points. The Blue Eagles countered with Justin Chua picking up the slack with a pair of jumpers to help forge a 15-all deadlock.

Old FEU hands RR Garcia and Al Ramos scored four points to give their side a four-point lead at 19-15 but a 10-2 run after Ateneo went into a two-man game between Slaughter and Emman Monfort saw the three-time defending champs up 25-20. It was a lead they would not relinquish.

Even as Ateneo once more shot poorly, it was their frenetic defense that put them over the top.

At the 6:37 mark of the third period, FEU had the making of a fastbreak. But Kirk Long broke up an outlet pass. The Tams’ Al Ramos looked to recover the ball but Monfort beat him to the leather. Monfort spun around Ramos and ignited a three-on-one break for Ateneo. Three passes – Monfort to Kiefer Ravena to Slaughter – and it was an and-one situation for the Ateneo big man and a 38-30 for the blue and white.

As Ateneo began to slowly pull away and the score at 41-34, the diminutive Monfort once more stopped Ping Exciminiano and RR Garcia on consecutive possessions.

In another possession, Kirk Long in one possession first denied Exciminiano then Romeo any room to drive to the basket. 

It has been said time and again that defense wins championships but to see how Norman Black has turned Ateneo into a feared defensive squad is a treat to watch.

There have been incredible demolition derbies in seasons past where they shackled opponents while blowing them off the court. And last summer, they went up against a powerful San Beda squad for the Filoil title. But it was no contest as they made short work of their ancient rivals en route to the crown.

And this year, with their Angry Eagle eyes focused on a fourth straight crown, they have shut down a much improved La Salle team and a highly fancied National University team.

As the game moved into the twilight zone and Ateneo with ball possession and holding  51-42 lead, a foul was called on Romeo who was tracking Monfort at the midcourt line. The referee (and Monfort) contend that the Tamaraw held Monfort’s arm to impede his moving upcourt. But it was the second motion by Monfort (who inadvertently hit Romeo’s face after the foul) that got the ire of the FEU bench.

FEU’s super sophomore was whistled for a technical foul for pointing an accusing finger at the ref for which Monfort hit two free throws.

FEU head coach Bert Flores raged on about the call for which he was hit also for a technical foul. Monfort canned one more free throw to bring the score to 54-42. In the ensuing ball possession of Ateneo, Long nailed a trey, 57-42 Ateneo.

At the exact time the triple found the bottom net, FEU’s rookie center Russell Escoto was whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul on Greg Slaughter. Another T was levied on FEU and following two Slaughter free throws the score was 59-42 for Ateneo.

Regaining ball possession once more, Long hit another trey from the same spot and it was 62-42 for the Blue Eagles.

The 11-point swing – and I do not recall seeing that in all my years of watching hoops – was devastating. Ateneo scored 11 points in 19 seconds.

Once the Tamaraws finally brought the ball in their side of the court, Slaughter blocked Romeo’s shot.

In the next Ateneo offensive, Ravena snatched an offensive board over former national teammate Mike Tolomia (following a missed Monfort jumper) to convert a spectacular and-one. At 65-42, the Blue Eagles had their biggest lead of the game and the fight was out of FEU.

The final score was 69-49. Ateneo had its first round sweep, their fourth since 2004. They held the Tamaraws to their lowest output of the first round.

FEU, crying foul after the series of Ts that they believe turned the game around, seethed in the aftermath. As they made their way out, they praised the Blue Eagles but lamented the officiating. 

The bad blood continues.

And from the way it looks, they’ll be meeting again next week once the second round gets underway.

* There's a much longer and detailed version of this in the next issue of Rebound.

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