This appears in the Monday, April 29, 2013 edition of the Business Mirror.
Another gritty win but there’s a man down once again
Ateneo pulverizes Lyceum but at what cost?
by rick olivares
Watching the Ateneo Blue Eagles yesterday, it’s not like a champion who has hung around too long and is on his last legs.
In fact, I am reminded of a t-shirt that done after it was thought that Ateneo would not win the 1988 championship despite winning it the year before. The message on the front was simple: “Great champions die hard”.
If you’ve watched the Ateneo Blue Eagles at all this summer you will have noticed how they have been depleted not just by graduations to key players but also injuries that have prevented new head coach Bo Perasol from fielding a complete lineup. Not even in the Fr. Martin’s Cup has Perasol had the benefit of the entire team.
During the five-peat, the team was mostly spared of any major injuries. Yes, there was Rabeh Al-Hussaini’s sprained ankle heading into the finals of Season 71 but the way he played was like he was never better. The following season, Noy Baclao played with a broken hand but no one really knew. The one major loss was JP Erram who suffered season-ending knee injury during the second round Adamson match.
Now it’s as if everything that could go wrong has happened.
JP Erram isn’t 100%. Ryan Buenafe is taking up summer class. Juami Tiongson has had to deal with a hand injury. Nico Elorde has had leg problems. Gboy Babilonia’s shoulder is hurting once more. Gwyne Capacio is out with a leg injury. And then Von Pessumal, one of Ateneo’s top three players of the summer thus far was knocked out via freak injury.
Pessumal’s finger hit the ball at the wrong angle twisting it that he had to be rushed to the hospital immediately (HE WENT THROUGH SURGERY LAST NIGHT AT 10PM AND IS NOW ALL RIGHT).
This one the eve of the team’s departure for the United States for its annual summer training.
But the game wasn’t done, the height-challenged and injury-ravaged Blue Eagles had nine players left on the bench when Pessumal went out. And they had to deal with a Lyceum Pirates team that once used to be known for its terrific shooting but has gained a new edge by the addition of former Letran bruiser Andrei Mendoza.
And suddenly, Lyceum is thinking they are like Alaska in the PBA. They’ll have to remember that it takes more than the addition of an enforcer to change a team’s fortunes. Calvin Abueva isn’t an enforcer but a rough and physical player who can back up his talk and antics with a superb all-around game. The man, if I may pay tribute, is a game changer.
The last time I saw an Ateneo Blue Eagles team this depleted was in 2005 during the Home and Away League, ironically, the original Filoil tournament.
Ateneo fielded a composite line up of Team A and B players. Unfortunately against the College of Saint Benilde (at their home floor along Taft) led by former DLSU Green Archer Martin Urra, Jeff Morial and former Ateneo Blue Eaglet Stan Aldover, they could only dress seven players as many of them had an exam that day. That was seven versus a 2-man lineup.
The team was composed of lone super senior Bajjie Del Rosario, Yuri Escueta, Emman Nazareno, Mox Badua, Gino Villame, Jeff De Guzman, and Johann Uichico who was the only big man on the team. Everyone else was a guard or converted forward.
They battled Benilde to two overtimes and finally succumbed 95-91 when Del Rosario fouled out in the second overtime (Badua had fouled out earlier while Villame succumbed to cramps) leaving only four players left on the court after the two-hour and thirty-minute minute contest.
The coach of the team at that time? Gabby Severino.
Cut back to yesterday. With Bo Perasol out on fever. Sandy Arespacochaga leaving early because of a Talk ‘N Text match versus Barangay Ginebra, the task of calling the shots fell to Severino.
Great champions die hard. You must remember that.
Frank Golla was the only legitimate big man with Babilonia sidelined by that shoulder injury suffered when UE’s Charles Mamie dipped his shoulder into his in the last outing.
The game was tied at 4-4 then Chris Newsome hit a triple while Golla scored underneath to make it 9-4. Lyceum would make a game of it, however, they would not come close as Ateneo held them at bay and as they steadily pulled away.
The Pirates played tough man-to-man defense but that left them susceptible to screens and being beaten off the dribble as Ateneo mixed up the offense with drives, pull-ups, and open shots. When LPU employed a zone, Juami Tiongson pulled the trigger on them with a triple. Pessumal, in his only points of the game scored on an and-one then Nico Elorde drilled a trey to close out the first quarter scoring at 26-15.
With the Blue Eagles threatening to turn the game into a rout, a near free-for-all broke out at the 1:32 mark of the second quarter when Andrei Mendoza punched Ateneo rookie forward Vince Tolentino in the stomach. Kiefer Ravena immediately got in Mendoza’s face and the latter jawed back and menacingly moved towards the Phenom.
In case you don’t know, one of Mendoza’s last acts as Letran Knight was to come off the bench and throw a punch at FEU’s Gryann Mendoza during an altercation. I asked Filoil Commissioner and my NBTC colleague Ato Badolato about Andrei Mendoza who I know he banned from play. They reconsidered as it is his final year. After he punched Tolentino (it was caught by one of the referees), I looked at Badolato who shook his head from the commissioner’s booth where he sat with colleagues Aric Del Rosario and Pepe Sanchez.
Technical foul plus ball possession (Ateneo was unable to grab a point off both).
But look at this lineup at that particular time: Juami Tiongson, Earl Murphy, Kiefer Ravena, Vince Tolentino, and Ice Lim. Doesn’t this remind you off Don Nelson’s unorthodox small line-ups at Golden State?
Nevertheless, Ateneo led 41-27 going into the halftime break.
At the start of the second half, Mendoza played to the Ateneo crowd egging them on to boo, jeer, and cuss him. He lapped it up. As I Tweeted at that time, Ateneo, you have yourselves a new public enemy. He kept at it, bumping Ravena who bumped him right back. He wagged a finger at Golla and traded barbs with Juami Tiongson (who was on the bench). He threw in a few choice words at the Ateneo coaching staff. I thought for a while I was watching the WWE and their made for TV villains.
But the theatrics were his and his team’s undoing. Ravena twisted him like a pretzel with a crossover move for a layup. And one point, he flubbed two consecutive shots as the hoots grew louder. He was pulled out for good after that.
Yet, I have to commend him for after the match he came over to the Ateneo bench and shook hands. I think he’s got some talent but if he put more time into playing honest defense and the overall aspects of the game (because he can pass that rock), he’ll be an asset. I’d like to paraphrase Dean Wormer in the National Lampoon classic, Animal House (yeah it might be a generation thing but go and watch it), “Stupid isn’t the way to go through life, son”.
Kiefer Ravena played like an import, as he came out only in the last 57 seconds of the third quarter and the score at 64-49. Ateneo was in foul trouble at this point which is why Lyceum scored 22 points.
The battle of the boards was pretty much equal 39-all. But Ateneo crushed them in the assists department 16-8 and had 14 fastbreak points to the two of LPU.
With a little over two minutes to play, Ravena dunked the ball for a 79-57 lead. Chris Newsome was grounded with foul trouble and Blue Mamba’s flush was the exclamation point for the win.
Ateneo won by 20, 84-64, to go to 6-1 in Bracket B of the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup. Lyceum fell to 0-2.
It’s a nice win but while it makes you feel good, you also look at the other teams like La Salle and National University who look every bit impressive as they roll through the summer tournament. But the Blue Eagles are resilient as they find new and unconventional ways to win.
Just as the game reminded me of that Home and Away League game way back in 2005, this season in some ways reminds me too of Season 73. Not much ceiling but we’ll just have to wing it.
Ateneo 84 – Ravena 21, Elorde 17, Tiongson 11, Murphy 9, Newsome 7, Tolentino 6, Golla 5, Asistio 5, Pessumal 3, Lim 0.
LPU 64 – Zamora 10, Ko 9, Mendoza 8, Fabian 8, Lacastesantos 7, Francisco 6, Taladua 5, Lesmoras 3, Azores 3, Evangelista 3, Ambohot 2, Soliman 0, Garcia 0, Edora 0, Baltazar 0.
Quarter scores 26-15, 41-27, 64-49, 84-64