thoughts by rick olivares pic by joseph nocks
This game against UE was important for many things.
One, Ateneo has a two-match losing streak to the Red Warriors in UAAP play.
In the second round of last season, Chris Javier hit a baseline jumper off an assist by Roi Sumang. Then in the first round meeting of Season 76, we got creamed as we were unable to stop Charles Mammie from dominating inside.
Second, this match was important to stay head above water in the chase for a Final Four slot.
And third, how the team responded from a disappointing loss the past week was of importance.
You might wonder why I didn’t list how the team will do without Bo Perasol standing on the sidelines for Ateneo. I wasn’t worried the least. The team has for the most part of this season been well-prepared. I know the coaching staff worked out a game plan and a means of communication. So… not at all.
All three concerns were answered in the 77-72 win.
A few minutes after tip-off, I was really concerned. I thought that Ateneo came out lethargic and lacking in energy. Furthermore, I was surprised that they once more resorted to bombarding from the outside instead of attacking the interior.
After UE took a 10-point lead into the halftime break, I thought that the game was going to be won in the third quarter. The Blue Eagles have struggled for the most part of this campaign. Consistency has been a problem but one aspect of their championship form has been recovered and that is their capacity for third quarter adjustments.
When Roi Sumang hit a jumper to stretch that lead to 12, the Blue Eagles countered with a 14-3 run to take the lead for the first time 48-47 following a Juami Tiongson lay-up.
During this run, Kiefer Ravena scored seven points. Up to this point, he continued to play dreadful; a spillover from the La Salle game.
There were seven lead changes in that crucial third quarter where Ateneo found their verve. While both squads were pretty much even in free throw attempts and more or less fouls, the most interesting stat was the Blue Eagles shooting 81.8% from the field (most of those were off lay-ups). You can say also say that Ateneo outrebounded UE in that third canto 13-10 but know that the Blue Eagles also took the second period in the caroms department. So for me, it was their willingness to attack. See what happens?
The score at the end of three periods played was 56-55; a one-point lead for Ateneo.
They had picked up the intensity several notches higher. As good as UE is, when a veteran team kicks the intensity level up, they have struggled to match it as they remain relatively inexperienced.
In the fourth period, Ateneo finally asserted control over the match. And they handled two pretty dangerous situations.
First was after they were caught napping on defense, UE pitched a forward pass to Charles Mammie who was already upcourt. He went in for a dunk. That made it 67-62, Ateneo. Ryan Buenafe doused fire on that with a triple after which Ravena drove in for a bucket.
Five Gino Jumao-as free throws and a triple by JM Noble cut the lead down to three, 72-69.
UE had a chance to cut that further but Sumang missed a drive. The UE spitfire crumbled to the baseline after hurting his knee. Sumang was unnoticed by most until after Ravena scored on another layup to make it 74-69.
Without Sumang and the suspended Ralf Olivares (Lord Casajeros was scoreless because of foul trouble), UE had a tough time finding a go-to scorer.
The Blue Eagles scored three more free throws to ice the game.
The fourth period reveals more of the same results of what Ateneo did right in the third canto: a willingness to attack inside (58.3%). And the Blue Eagles won the battle of the boards 14-6 with five offensive boards. The bigs -- JP Erram and Frank Golla -- did their part by combining for nine points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks.
Last season, UE put Ateneo on dangerous ground with that second round win of theirs. You can say that the Blue Eagles returned the favor but this time knocking the Red Warriors out of contention for a Final Four slot.
Thus far in the second round, the Blue Eagles are 4-1. The win put them at 7-5.
The road doesn’t get any easier as NU and UST are the last two assignments. But prizes worth attaining never offer easy roads or short cuts. The Blue Eagles found their winning form. The drive for six… is still alive.