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.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

UAAP Season 74 Final Four: Ateneo advances to fourth straight finals

by rick olivares photo by brosi gonzales

Heading into the Final Four match with UST, there were three things I was concerned about.

1)   - How will the Ateneo Blue Eagles will respond to the loss against Adamson and face a hot UST team?
2)    - How do we get Greg Slaughter to play well against UST?
3)    - And instead of “shoot that ball” will Ateneo “pass that ball?”

So did we bounce back?
Er, we did. There’s that saying of “a win is a win.” Said Norman Black post-match, “We came into the game thinking it would not be easy.” And true enough, the Blue Eagles squeaked past UST 69-66 as they left some change on the table for the Growling Tigers to claim.

And I agree up to a certain point. In the Final Four, you’re up against the best teams in the league and it may be safe to assume that everyone will bring their A-game because it is literally win-or-go-home time. That means teams will play more physical and slow down basketball.

Nevertheless, all season long, I got the sense that the team was flexing just enough of its muscles to do away with foes and conserving what they had for the post-season.

Since Season 70, Ateneo has pretty much made the post-elimination round its playground. It was there where they would ratchet up their play and throttle foes.

The University of the East Red Warriors, Adamson Falcons, and FEU Tamaraws know that all too well as they were on the business end of some awful beatings. As for the Tigers…

They were dispatched for the third time since 2006 but hardly in the fashion I, we, have come to expect.

In three meetings dating back to the Filoil Premier Cup, Ateneo tagged the Tigers by an average margin of 17 points.

I thought that Ateneo’s defense in the second and third quarter had UST on the ropes but they couldn’t close them out. Poor free throw shooting in the second and fourth quarters (5-9 in the 3rd and 5-10 in the 4th) as well as poor perimeter defense let UST back in the game.

Were it not for their miscues, they could have forged overtime.

The man in the middle
Greg Slaughter flashed me a huge grin right before the Ateneo Blue Eagles ran onto the court for their Final Four game with UST. He didn’t play too well against Adamson in a loss that closed out the elimination round campaign.

And in three games with UST this year (counting their game in the Filoil Premier Cup), the Tigers held Slaughter to six points per game. It was something definitely not lost the Ateneo center. “I’m just have to get going to help the team,” he offered. “Make better decisions with the ball, be more aggressive inside.”

With under five minutes to play in the second quarter, UST’s Cameroonian center Karim Abdul posted up Slaughter. Earlier, Abdul got Slaughter to fall for a pair of pump fakes. But his Ateneo counterpart was not biting this time.

Slaughter rejected the Cameroonian center and Emman Monfort, who had picked up the loose ball and was fouled in frustration by Abdul, promptly deposited two free throws for a 29-23 lead with 4:41 left before the halftime break.

Slaughter finished with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 1 steal, and 3 shot blocks (4 turnovers). It was his best showing against UST in four matches.

Extra mustard
What makes Ateneo basketball fun to watch is the way they work that ball around and finding the open man.

We had 13 assists in the first half when the team looked well on its way to a blowout. But in the second half they only chalked up four.

When they really moved that ball around, they got some pretty good shots. There was that pass by Nico Salva to Kirk Long in the right corner pocket for a trey. There were those two lobs to Slaughter for a couple of throwdowns.

For the elimination round, Ateneo had a total of 246 assists; the league’s best. The next team was Adamson with 202. The Falcons held them to eight assists in that lone loss.

The Blue Eagles finished with 17 dime drops to the 10 of UST. Right on the average of 17.6, but halfway through the fourth period, turnovers, botched free throws, and poor shot selection got UST back in the game.

Since the team doesn’t rely too much on the three-point shot, they have learned to get their points inside the paint. Ateneo averages 34.4 points inside the shaded area. Because of the predilection for an inside game, the Blue Eagles have been awarded the most free throws with 346 (UST is next with 308 largely because of Abdul but they are in sixth place in terms of accuracy).

In that fourth quarter against UST, Ateneo had two turnovers, five missed free throws, and shot 6-17 from the field.

Nevertheless, we survived a furious endgame rally by UST for a 69-66 win.

Since the 2006 Finals loss to UST, Ateneo has only lost one game to the Tigers and that was in the first round of Season 70. The latest win was the Blue Eagles 11th straight over its EspaƱa rival. And it put us in a position to win a fourth straight title, a seventh UAAP Men’s Basketball crown, and 21st overall including those won in the NCAA.

There’s this saying about counting one’s blessings. You may say we’ve been spoiled by winning and are ultimately unsatisfied unless it’s a convincing win or a blowout but the fact of the matter is… we’re in.

UE, UST and La Salle are the only teams to have won four straight. In this day and age of increased recruiting, Fil-Ams and African imports, some things we just have to be thankful for because this doesn’t happen every day.

Notes: This was the third time Ateneo has played UST in the Final Four since 2006. It’s a third series win and this one was a three-point win.

Take a look at that elbow by Karim Abdul on Greg Slaughter.

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