by rick olivares photo by joseph nocos
Like any Ateneo-Adamson battle of the last decade, this one was a tough one. I could say that even if it darn near gave you ulcers or heartburn maybe this is the way they should be – quality basketball with big shot after big shot and huge stop after huge stop. One more for the lore (if you’re on the Katipunan side) and one more game you’d like to forget (if you’re from the San Marcelino side).
Here are my thoughts about the game.
This was a huge game with Final Four implications.
The loss to the UE Red Warriors was huge. It put the Ateneo Blue Eagles in a precarious situation where they could fall into a tie with the second-running teams and possibly lose a tiebreaker for the twice-to-beat advantage.
Adamson is done for the year and are just trying to play spoiler and better its position in the standings.
Going into this match, Ateneo was 21-4 in matches following a loss since Norman Black took over. Since the four-peat, the Blue Eagles, were 9-0 following a loss.
Do numbers mean anything? They do but not all the time and this certainly wasn’t one of them. Because if you remember last year, the Adamson Falcons ended 14 years of futility against Ateneo. The numbers may be there but Ateneo has to go out and win it. And win it, 79-72, they did.
That puts the blue and white at 10-2 with two to play. UST is at second with a 9-3 slate while FEU (after having to replay an earlier match with NU) is at third at 8-3. The Bulldogs grabbed a huge win over La Salle to move up to fourth spot with a 7-4 record while the Green Archers slipped to 7-5.
By no means is the cast or the seedings set.
You have to appreciate the coaching battle.
In the first quarter, Adamson head coach Leo Austria threw three defenders at Ateneo’s perimeter players to deny the outside shot and entry pass to Greg Slaughter. It somewhat worked. Yet interestingly in that same quarter, 18 of the Blue Eagles’ first 21 points came from the inside while Adamson scored 14 interior points of their own.
For Ateneo, it says a lot about how they like to take it to the basket. In the previous match against UE, they only had eight free throws as they suddenly fell in love with the outside shot.
For Adamson, that says a lot about Ateneo’s interior defense for the match.
When Eric Camson caught fire, that forced the Ateneo big men to go farther out. The moment the Blue Eagles extended their defense, Austria had his players drive immediately inside. Took Ateneo a bit to adjust to this but when they did, the lane was closed to traffic.
In the second half of play, with Ateneo’s bigs largely ineffective against their mobile counterparts, Slaughter went to guard Camson. The fourth year Falcons forward waged a battle with the Ateneo slotman with neither having success on the defensive end. But in the late stages of the fourth period, Camson missed two jumpers with Slaughter all over him that were huge.
It was a risk for the Big Fella to guard Camson. For one, he could get into foul trouble and two, he would get tuckered out. Luckily, he didn’t on both counts.
However, in the fourth period, there was a crucial substation that hurt Adamson. Austria sent in Allan Etrone who has had an up and down season. Etrone was cold after missing the better part of the game. Kiefer Ravena poked the ball away from him that led to an Ateneo possession and the sophomore Blue Eagle guard stripped him close to the halfcourt line for a layup that all but decided the game.
Austria seems to read Ateneo better than any other coach in the last several years and that has shown in the results. Imagine not having much of a bench but his Falcons stayed close. It is good to see Camson playing better but he should have done this in the first round of play.
It’s an ugly win for Ateneo but at what price?
When JP Erram went down on the floor, it was an “oh, shit” moment. Erram (3.6 ppg and 4.1 rpg) has been a huge contributor for Ateneo this season and looked to make another significant contribution in this game against Adamson. We’re not sure yet what’s wrong with him but in the event that he is lost for the season, Justin Chua (5.6 ppg and 2.8 rpg) and Frank Golla (0.9 ppg and 2.0 rpg) have to step up.
Chua has done a creditable job despite the loss in minutes. Golla on the other hand… well, in years past he was a significant contributor to the team. This year has been downright forgettable.
He tends to over think a lot of situations. Instead of going strong for the basket, he pumps fakes himself into a turnover or a violation. It’s a mental think for Golla at the moment. A good play or two and he’ll be solid once more.
Now’s the time for Frank to step up.
If there is anything that the UE loss exposed it is our difficulty in guarding against three-point shooting teams.
In years past, we fiercely guarded the interior and chased players who like to use picks to free themselves for an outside shot. Adamson isn’t one of the better three-point shooting teams. Like UST and UE, they are a volume shooting team. Now if they wax hot then it could get pretty nasty for an opposing team.
If the first quarter was like a layup line for both teams, the second quarter onwards wasn’t. Camson and Roider Cabrera got hot and for a while it was like a reprise of the Roi Sumang-Gene Belleza Show of a few days ago.
There was a frightening moment there when Nico Salva fouled Cabrera’s attempt from La La Land and mercifully for the Blue Eagle forward, the foul came before the attempt so it merited only two free throws of which only one was canned.
When Adamson’s trey attempts weren’t falling and the perimeter defense was tighter, they went in. Unfortunately, for them Nico Elorde and Oping Sumalinog shut the door on Ryan Monteclaro and Camson. Those were game changers.
Interestingly, Slaughter didn’t record a single block. The last time he did not reject any brick was in last year’s second round Adamson match that resulted in a loss. But at least his teammates helped him out.
We didn’t land any major blue chip rookies this year but we got Nico Elorde.
I became friends with the Elorde family nearly ten years ago when I featured Gabriel “Flash” Elorde in a photo exhibit at the NBC Tent at the Fort. I was kind of surprised that one of the Elorde grandsons did not box but preferred to play basketball. So I followed Nico while he was at DLSZ. When he was graduating from high school, I talked to his mom, Lisa, about sending Nico to Ateneo. Understandably, he went to DLSU.
I thought that he was a heady player who could be a contributor to his team so. By the time he moved up to college, I got Nico Elorde as one of my Gatorade Brand Ambassadors. Unfortunately, he mostly sat on the bench that year. Without the numbers to show, Tata Marata and Arnold Van Opstal replaced him on the brand lineup.
When he moved to Ateneo, I was sure that he would find his niche within the team. Some wondered if he had any value. But I had seen this kid play and he may not be a pugilist but he’s as tough as they come. Plus, he is a playmaker. I thought that he’d be a great replacement for Emman Monfort at the one.
In a conversation with Nico some time last year, he said that he quickly got the system that the Blue Eagles ran. And he’s fit in quite nicely. While not a streak shooter like Monfort, he has played superb D and has occasionally hit some big shots.
Against Adamson, he provided much-needed scoring sock for the second unit (18 points total) with a perfect shooting day going 4-4 from the field and 1-1 from the line. He also grabbed two boards and had a huge block on Ryan Monteclaro.
The win against Adamson was taken on championship experience and true grit. Elorde has one of those. Hopefully, by season’s end, he’ll have the other as well.
Twelve played and two to go.