|The battle between Greg Slaughter and Anthony Hargrove was like Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla. haha|
Five ways to appreciate the Ateneo win over FEU
by rick olivares pic by brosi
You have to wonder what RR Garcia is thinking. No Eric Salamat. No Emman Monfort. No Kirk Long. Yet his FEU Tamaraws still cannot get over the hump against Ateneo.
The La Salle-NU game that preceded the main event had as much theater and drama too. But this one literally rocked the Big Dome to its foundations. And besides, it was packed unlike the sparsely attended first game.
Walking alongside Norman Black to the media room, coach uttered two words: “Wow. Hirap.”
Let’s flip the postulate.
No Al Ramos. No Pippou Noundou. No Ping Exciminiano. And these Tamaraws are still a tough bunch to beat. The Blue Eagles had to buck dubious calls in the first quarter, a double digit FEU lead, and Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia going inside like the shaded lane was a McDonald’s drive through to pull out a workmanlike win.
In the first half, Ateneo could not adjust to the wing play of FEU where their perimeter players would move around a lot thanks to a bunch of screens to free them. The Blue Eagles got so overly concerned with Romeo and Garcia losing their guards that they forgot players like Arvie Bringas, Roger Pogoy, and Anthony Hargrove who took advantage of the confusion to drive in for a lay up, and-one, or even a monstrous throwdown.
For a FEU team that has steadily lost its low post players over the years (see box) they sure took it to Ateneo early on.
After the first half of play, FEU had 20 points from inside the lane, 6 points from the free throw line, and 11 points from the perimeter.
During FEU’s earlier four-game win streak that saw them win by the skin of their teeth (usually in the final play of the game), head coach Bert Flores described the method to their madness. “Hinahayaan ko si Terrence o si RR mag-create.”
The adjustment was to stay in front of Romeo and Garcia and to improve the perimeter defense. When that was accomplished (and with Greg Slaughter swatting five shots), FEU was forced to beat Ateneo with the longball. The Tams nailed three treys at the end of the game but one of which was inconsequential.
And besides, we countered and matched them with our best three-ball effort this season (we were 5-13 while they were 5-18).
We had to sweat it out and work for it. The Tams tested us and brought out some great clutch play.
To borrow a line from the championship t-shirt of the 1988 Ateneo UAAP champion team: “Great champions die hard”.
We got treated to Ryan Buenafe’s playground
Hey, FEU. Remember me?
The last time Buenafe played a match against FEU in a UAAP game, he stuck a three-point dagger in thousands of Morayta hearts.
And here was Buenafe once again – a Tamaraw killer. Hey, the animal in an endangered specie and after Ateneo’s win, it dropped the Tams from first to third place in the standings. With La Salle and NU bring up the rear in the last seats to the Final Four bus, how huge was that loss?
Juami Tiongson’s assist production has dove-tailed. In the first three games of the season, he averaged six assists to one turnover. After missing the UP match, he has since chalked up only one assist versus seven turnovers.
Luckily for him and the team, there’s Ryan Buenafe.
Let’s look at his counterparts in the three-spot:
He doesn’t defy gravity like Alex Nuyles does. He doesn’t put up a ton of points like Jeron Teng does. He doesn’t hoist voluminous numbers of treys like NU’s Lee Villamor or UST’s Kevin Ferrer do.
But Buenafe’s the guy who can dominate a game while scoring only six points and he’s certainly someone who comes up big in big games. Now I am not going to call him "big something" despite his propensity to contribute mightily in big games.
Buenafe is a game changer and a silent assassin in what appears to be an unathletic body. Charles Barkley anyone? Close but Barkley is a different specimen.
When the fourth quarter started, the score was at 53-49, FEU.
FEU’s Anthony Hargrove and Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena traded two points each. At the 8:18 mark, Buenafe scored on an and-one against the former making it 55-54. We’re down a solitary point.
After a FEU miss, he found Nico Salva who struggled mightily because of foul trouble. That gave Ateneo its first taste of the lead since 2-0.
The Tams regained the lead with a Mark Bringas bucket and then the play that swung the momentum for good, Ateneo’s way.
At the 6:26 mark, Buenafe took the ball on top of the left side of the three-point arc. Greg Slaughter went out to provide a pick as Ryan looked up at the clock. His last two three-point attempts from the same area were short. He looked to shot but drove hard instead. Drawing a crowd as he knifed in from the lane, he suddenly found Slaughter amidst the forest of limbs and the Big Fella obliged with a two-handed stuff. We never did surrender that 58-57 lead (at the 6:20 mark).
In a little over two minutes, his heads up play turned the game around.
With the score at 66-60, he dove for the loose ball and got FEU’s (and his former San Sebastian teammate) Arvie Bringas to pick up his fourth foul.
Following a Bringas trey to cut the lead to 69-63, Buenafe tacked on two more free throws to provide some breathing space.
And it got contagious. Slaughter posted up and handed off the ball to Kiefer Ravena who cut along the baseline. Ravena literally laid the ball inside the basket with his finger tips just touching the rim. No need for a slam. When it mattered, Ateneo countered with execution. The result was a 74-71 comeback win.
When the Blue Eagles struggled against UE in its last outing, Ryan was handed the ball in the third quarter. Ten minutes later, the Red Warriors were finished.
Buenafe tallied a stat line of 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists against FEU. Like the man himself, it doesn’t really look unspectacular. What is important is how and when he does it. And that is spectacular.
Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Nonoy Baclao V.2
We all know what that duo gave Ateneo.
There are few storied centers in Ateneo’s UAAP history. There was the fabled Danny Francisco and undersized but no less tough John Verayo. Then there was Enrico Villanueva, Ford Arao, and Al-Hussaini. Now there’s the Big Fella from Virginia.
Technically, the four-spot belongs to Nico Salva who is also a defensive problem for others because he can take them out to the perimeter. But how intriguing was that pairing of Slaughter and Erram during that crucial late and early fourth quarter?
Erram was pegged to replace the revered Nonoy Baclao at the four spot. A defensive menace who could provide some rebounding assistance and points on the putback. But I have always thought that Erram was better offensively.
After the last University Games (in Roxas City) that the Blue Eagles won, I thought that Erram was ready to breakout this season rather than provide the occasional cameo and quality minutes. He was making opposing centers eat their shots while slamming the ball from alley-oop passes from Juami Tiongson and Tonino Gonzaga.
Poy is athletic, has a good medium range jumper, and has great defensive instincts.
FEU tried to overwhelm us with their size -- Anthony Hargrove (bet you regret not playing for the blue and white now), the Bringas brothers, Rey Belo, and Christian Sentcheu. But when Ateneo countered with Slaughter and the more mobile Erram, the freeway that the Tams had access to earlier? Dude, they had to pay the toll fee.
Slaughter – 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 5 blocks.
Erram – 6 points, 9 rebounds (including four offensive boards), 1 steal and 2 blocks.
Until they take it from us, we are still the kings of the endgame
The Tamaraws have been clutch for the most part. They chalked up impressive endgame victories over tough teams – UST and La Salle. They nearly pulled it off again against NU and the final three-point margin notwithstanding. The outcome against Ateneo was decided with a minute and eight seconds left (after a Kiefer Ravena free throw made it 69-60).
While the Norman Black era in Ateneo will be remembered for its championships and defensive mentality, one hallmark that should be remembered is its steel-resolve in the endgame. We have won more nail biters than anyone since 2006. And that has served this team in good stead.
The UAAP Board likes that there’s parity in the league. There are five teams who could realistically win it all. Adamson would have been a contender had they not lost Alex Nuyles. Every game we ‘re going to be tested. And that brings me to my last point.
You have a front row seat to the Drive for Five.
Who would have thought that the Ateneo Blue Eagles would be in a position like this – to win a fifth straight title? There have been two occasions where this has happened – the 1930s and the 1950s (where we went to six finals in eight years while winning four: a pair of back-to-backs sandwiched by losses). And then there is now.
We’ll save the sentiment for a later column but you have to appreciate what you are watching.
The match against FEU was a classic regardless which side you root for. One team is the paragon of exceptional talent while the latter is for team play. You can never take for granted that we are the defending champions. It’s a different season under a different set of circumstances. To make history, they have to be focused while we have to support them in the stands win or lose.
In 1989, Blue Eagles lost overnight four vital cogs who missed a season for varying reasons. There was already a sense of three-peat was done even before it started as we lost Danny Francisco to a heart ailment, Alex Araneta and Jay Gayoso to academics, and Jet Nieto to med school. The blue and white faithful still trooped out but not in large numbers. The noises about winning a title then emanated from that school along Taft Avenue (and they did win it).
I will forever remember how with barely 60 Ateneans in the stands, the FEU Tamaraws of Johnny Abarrientos and Vic Pablo officially hammer down the last nail in the coffin for Ateneo. My classmate, Joseph Canlas, shot blanks for nearly 90% of the way but caught fire late in the game. We fell.
The difference between now and then is that we are in the thick of things. The great thing about our being fans is that we are then win or lose. Even during those two dark ages of the early 80s and the title-less 90s.
The first round is done. Now, the scramble for the first objective of nailing the top two seeds for the Final Four will become even more intense.
The Drive for Five continues.
Seven played. Seven more to go.
Thanks to the guys from Imperium Technology. And I apologize for my glasses remark.
Thanks to the guys from Imperium Technology. And I apologize for my glasses remark.