Down but not out.
Ateneo 73 vs La Salle 82
by rick olivares
Quite a few people asked me how I saw the game playing out for the Ateneo Blue Eagles before tip off against La Salle.
I said I wasn’t sure. With this Ateneo Blue Eagle team, one in flux and transition, you never know what you are getting.
In fact, in the very first episode of Blue Eagle 40, I postulated that by the end of the first week, the team could possibly fall to 0-3 (read possibly). Not because I do not believe in the team but because the loss of Kiefer Ravena would hurt the team’s rotation, scoring sock, and endgame poise. The line-up is already a thin one as it is.
Why do I say you do not know what you are getting? That lies on Ryan Buenafe. You already know that Chris Newsome is consistent but Ryan for all his greatness remains an enigma. I, you want him to be more consistent. To strap that team onto his massive back for an improbable win. But because of the lack of conditioning and a heavier build, he doesn’t drive as much as before and has fallen in love with the three-point shot.
Hence, my feeling that I cannot get a read on this team.
But after three matches, it is nice to know that they fight all the way to the very end. As I said before, that is all you can ever ask for a team whether you are loaded or depleted.
The loss to La Salle, like FEU before that, was winnable. Sure there were bad calls that hurt us but at the end of the day, we still hurt ourselves with poor execution, turnovers, and shot selection. But again… I can take this because the team fought the good fight. Even if we’re at 0-3.
My good friend Sid Ventura told me that the last time a Blue Eagle team went 0-3 was in 1997 (they actually went 0-4). Sid remembers that so well because his alma mater, UP, was 4-0 when they played Ateneo in the next match and they lost. Incidentally, assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga played on that squad.
La Salle took that third quarter.
The Green Archers took advantage of 11 turnovers by Ateneo that they converted into six points. They also went to the free throw line 17 times and scored on 10 of them. Ateneo? Zero attempts from the free throw line that quarter.
There was that mad minute in the middle of that period where La Salle gained confidence.
After JP Erram scored on a lay-up off a nifty cut and pass by Chris Newsome the score was at 48-34 with 5:52 to play.
In La Salle’s next possession, Almond Vosotros hit a triple.
Buenafe tried to get it back but missed a three (I remember Bo Perasol shaking his head at the ill-advised shot).
Buenafe was called for a foul on Jason Perkins who hit both free throws to bring the lead down 48-39.
Ryan turned the ball over while attempting a back pass to Newsome and Vosotros hightailed it back for a layup, 48-41.
Nico Elorde lost the ball to a full court press. Arnold Van Opstal converted two free throws off Erram’s third foul, 48-43.
After that, Erram would foul out with 45 seconds left while Frank Golla would be whistled for his fourth foul. Gboy Babilonia tired his best but he looked lost and was very ineffective in his 12-minute stint.
The last five minutes of the third quarter changed the complexion of the game.
La Salle’s bigs killed us.
For the first time in years, the Green Archers’ bigs outplayed the boys in blue.
Even if there were bad calls, the turnovers really hurt. In the three matches thus far, the Blue Eagles had fewer turnovers than NU, FEU, and La Salle. The problem is that third quarter.
The third quarter, once a strength, is now a problem (although I am very sure that our coaching staff knows this and is looking at ways to resolve this).
Nevertheless, we are still okay. I like it that the team fights ‘til the very end. I can appreciate that and laud them for that. Again, it is obvious na manipis yung line-up and the team is clearly missing Kiefer Ravena.
But there are still things to like. Well, players.
Chris Newsome. Easily the best player on the team thus far. And one of the UAAP’s top players (the losses are not giving him any pluses in statistical points not that I don’t think he cares). He plays both ends of the floor. Limited the scores of Ray Parks, Terrence Romeo, and Jeron Teng (the three scored the bulk of their points on other players and not Chris). This early, I’d say he’s been the Best Defensive Player. He’s been averaging 17.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game despite guarding opposing players in the perimeter!
Juami Tiongson. The captain has been a silent operator. He’s also been averaging in double digits: 11.3 points. Love the way he took charge down the stretch against La Salle including that brilliant drive where he hung in the air for a stretch lay-up.
Ryan Buenafe. Yes, he could make better decisions and drive to the hoop instead of jacking up threes. But look at his average in three matches: 16. 6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.0 blocks in 34 minutes of play.
When Ryan didn’t play in Season 74, I thought back then, what a blow. But in hindsight, it’s a blessing in many ways because imagine if he were not playing now, we’d be really blown out.
There’s a reason why we are at 0-3. Last year, the concern was, ‘has the team lost its killer instinct after having won so much’? That isn’t the case now. They know humility, defeat, and hardship. They still have their championship resolve and that has kept them fighting even if the lineup isn’t that deep. But I feel that Ravena’s injury and Buenafe’s being in uniform is for a reason.
And maybe that will be spelled out in the upcoming weeks.
The game plan so far can be distilled into letting Chris Newsome and Ryan Buenafe operate from the top of the half circle. Occasionally it goes down into the post. That’s so because we lack a post-up threat.
Ravena’s eventual return will solve some things (but not all).
In my last piece following the loss to FEU, I recounted an story from 2003 when as defending champions the team went to 0-2. Does that necessitate pressing the panic button? Nope not at all. As far as the coaching, I am fine with what is being executed. I like what Bo Perasol is trying to do. I do not want to sound like his apologist but remember that this is not your five-peat team. The sooner you accept that fact then your understanding of the situation will make you sober up.
Do I feel bad? Just a bit. But it’s that mindset I choose to abide by. I knew the problems the team was facing and I am just being realistic. Yet even at 0-3. I think at this point, we’re down but not out. I think when we play Adamson next Sunday, we’ll be better. Like Andy Murray said in Wimbledon after losing to Roger Federer a year ago, “I am closer.”
Tuloy lang ang suporta. Congrats to La Salle for this huge win. Next round ulit.