|One of the things NU did very well was to take the game inside. With Mark Ferreras challenging Jossier Hassan and the other Blue Eaglets trying to close the lane, look at the three Bullpups who are wide open for kickouts.|
This appears in the Monday February 15, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.
Breaking down Game 1 of the Ateneo-NU Juniors Finals
by rick olivares
The National University Bullpups held off a late charge by Ateneo to prevail, 76-72 in Game One of the UAAP Juniors Finals.
Let’s analyze what happened in this titanic match up.
NU’s superb defense took Ateneo out of its carefully orchestrated sets. Their perimeter defense on four of the five Blue Eaglets was terrific. Jolo Mendoza struggled to find daylight. Ditto with Matt Nieto. Shaun Ildefonso was extinguished inside.
Defensively, I thought the Blue Eaglets were slow to close down that porous top where the superb Phil Manalang kept driving inside and finding teammates for drop passes and open looks. Driving inside wreaked havoc on Ateneo’s defense. This benefitted mark Dyke greatly as he was largely unguarded for a variety of medium range shots or putbacks.
Ideally, what you want to do is to push the ball carrier to the side to limit his options.
The only thing available for Ateneo was the three-point shot and Mike Nieto kept Ateneo in the game as he drilled in four triples including one that beat the quarter clock to level the score at 19-all.
At this point, despite the poor game by Ateneo (some of it you have to credit to NU), I thought that they took NU’s best shot. But no. The Bullpups’ bench responded to the challenge.
NU was able to garner a sizeable lead in the second period due to Ateneo’s seven turnovers.
To start off the period, two consecutive turnovers – steals by NU’s Oliver De Guzman – saw NU put up easy points on the board. Both steals came from drives from the left arc by Jolo Mendoza and Mike Nieto.
Another turnover (three in the first two minutes of the second period) hurt as NU was suddenly up 26-19.
That was the story of this quarter for Ateneo as they turned over the ball a lot early on. NU took advantage of this and scored nine turnover points. The Bullpups got contributions from their entire starting five in this period.
The Blue Eaglets came on strong again and forced eight turnovers and scored eight points to trim the lead down to 36-31 heading into the halftime break.
Another poor start by Ateneo saw NU take advantage of the lapses as John Clemente scored seven straight points to make it 43-21. They looked like they were going to break the game wide open. I was kind of surprised that Ateneo called no time out.
A Mike Nieto triple was sandwiched by a pair of conventional three-point plays by NU center Justine Baltazar and power forward Dyke that made it 49-34.
It took a near fight between Jordan Sta. Ana and Ateneo backup center Jossier Hassan to light a fire underneath the Blue Eaglets. It would be interesting to note that Ateneo always played better with the period winding down. But that doesn’t help much when you’re down by a lot.
Ateneo continued its vaunted pressure defense to come close. With the exception of the first period, the Blue Eaglets squandered their chances to pull abreast or even take the lead. In the midst of its searing rally, Jolo Mendoza hit two free throws to cut the lead to one, 60-59. Gian Mamuyac forced Manalang into a backcourt violation. They had two shots at taking the lead for the first time. After a missed attempt, Mamuyac grabbed an offensive rebound. After another missed attempt the loose ball went Ateneo’s way. Mike Nieto missed a triple to give the ball back to NU.
This one is kind of contentious as some table officials who wish to remain anonymous said that the next Mark Dyke jumper at the end of the next possession’s shot clock was late. Maybe. Maybe not. But it was close and it counted.
There was another contentious play where NU’s Mark Ferreras scored on a putback that I thought was a travel as his initial attempt was short and didn’t hit any board or rim. That made it 70-62 with 51 seconds to play. Again maybe or maybe not. But I’d say that the two botched layups – one by Mendoza and the other by Mike Nieto were the ones that hurt Ateneo’s cause as NU made them pay. A couple of heads up plays by NU’s Mark Ferreras gave them a badly needed cushion to weather the onslaught. And it was enough as NU took the game to render Ateneo’s advantage moot as it is now down to a best-of-three series.
|Look at NU's transition defense. Sorry for the blurred photo was just using an iPod. Matt Nieto tries to push with Jolo Mendoza the only one ahead. Three other Blue Eaglets are lagging behind.|
Some things Ateneo needs to address:
Get Ildefonso and Hassan untracked. The lack of scoring and rebounding underneath hurt them bad. NU grabbed 66 rebounds to the 48 of Ateneo. The Blue Eaglets are second in the Juniors Division in fastbreak points 12.8 per game. They finished with four to the eight of NU.
Worse, NU scored 25 second chance points to Ateneo’s six. Shaun and Jossier, you guys have to want it. You have to take it strong. Getting blocked is part of the game. Between the two, I am concerned with Ildefonso who had a strong first round but tapered off later. Some opine that he now lacks confidence. Whatever it is, I think the coaching staff will need to bring out the best in him. Ildefonso and Hassan scoring some and closing that lane will ease the pressure on the Nietos and Mendoza.
The Blue Eaglets cannot bombard from the outside like that. That is UST’s trademark not Ateneo’s. The Blue Eaglets jacked up an insane 37 trey attempts and hit 10 of them for 27%. The Bullpups scored 36 points in the paint with 16 lay-ups and tip-ins.
If you continue to fire away from the outside and not play inside then there are fewer free throw attempts. The Blue Eaglets only had a preposterous two free throw attempts in the first period and another two in the second! Yes, I know the lane isn’t exactly a McDonald’s drive-thru but if Manalang and Daniel Atienza keep attacking inside then I don’t see why the Blue Eaglets won’t do the same.
Another would be at the height of that NU run in the third, I thought that there was an imbalance in the line-up inside. Four tweeners and one frontcourt player. That hurt.
When NU attacks, I think the Blue Eaglets need to trust their teammates to stop the incursions. When someone rotates over they should cover whoever is open. I am sure the team has its rules so this is just me.
What does NU need to work on?
Get the same production and effort from their team. I thought they were well prepared and motivated for this match.
I have been tracking Philip Manalang for two years now. I like the kid as he is smart, tough, and has great vision. His outlet pass off a defensive board to a streaking Clemente was perfect. No dribble. Just a layup. They need him to stay foul free to run their offense effectively.
They should continue to work on those boards and prevent Ateneo from running. Forcing the Blue Eaglets to a halfcourt game works in their favor.
Final thoughts on the match
In the four previous times Ateneo swept the eliminations, they always lost Game One but went on to win the series. In this series, even at the start, I thought they were the underdog because NU is deep, tall, talented, and athletic. NU coach Jeff Napa sent in 14 players with nine of them scoring. Only three of the players failed to register any significant statistic.
I wondered if their layoff affected their play as they started off every period poorly but finished strong. They need to start strong and not allow NU to dictate the pace of the game.
It was a well-played game and much credit has to go to Napa and his crew for a terrific game plan where they scouted Ateneo well and forced them to play one-on-one. The onus is now on Ateneo to make its adjustments.
Great atmosphere with the supporters of both schools cheering their hearts out. Gotta love the Ateneo High School. They cheer so much better than the college and alumni crowd combined. There were some contentious moments but there were also good displays of sportsmanship.
Other notes: It sure was cool to see San Beda Red Cub Andrei Caracut at the game. Wonder who he was rooting for if any. Some former Blue Eaglets in attendance -- Onnie Martin, Raymond Austria, Wesley Gonzales, and Von Pessumal. Jerie Pingoy was also there to lend support.