The old one-two
by rick olivares
While it is ideal that the starting five is backstopped by the bench, there are days when your Main Man — or Main Men as in this case — simply have to carry the load.
Against the National University Bulldogs, Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal literally carried the Ateneo Blue Eagles to its seventh win in 11 matches, 68-59.
Ravena and Pessumal have been teammates for 10 years now. Through five championships; three in the juniors division and two in the seniors (in addition to a smattering of other pre and post-season leagues). Theirs is a keen understanding of the game and they’ve done this so many times in the past. Now in their final year in school, they hope to go out as champions one last time.
This is a game where as it wore on and especially if you root for the blue and white, you just have to sit back and watch the fireworks.
The duo scored 52 of Ateneo’s 68 points nearly equalling NU’s output of 59. In the last game, that huge win over UST, the bench carried the Blue Eagles to victory. This time around, the old one-two punch packed a mean one. And theirs was better than NU’s one-two combo of Alfred Aroga and Gelo Alolino who combined for 27 points.
When was the last time we witnessed Kiefer Ravena put on such an incandescent shooting display?
Most recently, there was that Filoil match on June 1, 2013 where he torched Robert Bolick Jr. and La Salle for 31 points after which the Green Archers made a coaching change and sent their boisterous rookie to the bench.
And there was that Final Four match during Kiefer Ravena’s sophomore year in college where he scored a scintillating 13 points to go with two rebounds, four assists, and one steal in the fourth quarter of Ateneo’s Final Four match once more against La Salle. The Blue Eagles advanced to the Finals where they won their fifth consecutive championship.
Ravena was in the midst of the dreaded sophomore slump that began during the Philippine Collegiate Champions League loss to San Sebastian. But as Season 75 wore on, Ravena found his groove. And he shed his season struggles with that memorable win against La Salle.
Three years later, this Season 78, Ravena, struggling albeit heroically, pressed into duty despite a tweaked ankle, provided another series of highlights in a young career filled with them. This time, he didn’t wait for the fourth period.
In the previous 10 matches of Ateneo, Kiefer Ravena took the first shot of the Blue Eagles’ first possession of the game twice. And that was the season opener against FEU and the first round encounter against UST. Both times, Ravena missed. Both times, Ateneo lost. Of course, that is just coincidence. Incidentally, too, of those 10 games, Ateneo scored on its first possession twice; both coming from Ponso Gotladera with twin feeds coming from Matt Nieto.
Against NU this second round, Ravena, casually hit his first attempt of the game even if time was running down in their shot clock, a triple at the 9:33 mark and right over NU’s Paolo Javelona.
So was it going to be any different this time around?
That was an understatement and as head coach Bo Perasol said later on, this was his most convincing win against the Bulldogs in his UAAP career.
A play later, Von Pessumal threw a behind the back bounce pass to his long-time teammate for another triple. Then he took a hand off from GBoy Babilonia for another. The last of the six straight triples saw him pump up a shot after getting tagged on the elbow by Javelona. Shades of that Final Four match against La Salle except this one counted.
Javelona is no slouch of a defender. He turned himself from a butterfingers of a guard into a clutch player who can put the clamps on opposing numbers. Kiefer scored 21 points during Ateneo’s first round win against NU. However, he shot only 21% from the field. Post-game, Ravena paid tribute to Javelona.
The pre-game chatter in the second round meeting was on Javelona, the Ravena stopper. Paolo inherited that stopper tag from former teammate Kevin Porter who has since gone back to the United States.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of a Ravena stopper.
In that same Season 75, La Salle paraded an improved Jed Manguera who not only made it back to the lineup but also stopped Kiefer during a pre-season game (the Filoil tourney that ended in a Green Archers victory).
The next two meetings — all during UAAP Season 75 — Kiefer destroyed Manguera’s defense tallying 16 and 18 points respectively. During the Final Four match up where Ravena tallied 28 markers, Manguera didn’t get off the bench at all.
There too was FEU’s Chris Exciminiano. Well, that ended in Ateneo’s championship in 2011 when Ravena was a freshman starter.
In this NU game, the Phenom scored 21 first quarter points against NU. He accounted for 21 of Ateneo’s 24 opening period points (the other three came from Vince Tolentino) while drilling his first six three-point attempts (6-7).
Kiefer’s production declined over the next three quarters — 5, 4, and 2. The reason why he had to take those outside shots was because of that bum ankle. “I didn’t have my normal explosiveness,” conceded Kief. But even as he slacked off, Pessumal’s production went up per period from zero to 3 to 8 to 9.
Ravena did finish with 32 points on 48% shooting. He also added three rebounds and two assists against one turnover all in 31 minutes.
Even as Ravena’s contributions dipped, Pessumal picked up the slack and led Ateneo to victory.
Remember Von’s early season struggles? He’s found the range now and his game is peaking at the right time. I pointed out how he didn’t contribute point-wise during Ateneo’s fourth quarter woes. This time around, Pessumal came through with nine big points including a deadeye three and two daring drives against Alfred Aroga.
This is the reason why opposing coaches want him shut down. He can light it up.
Actually, back in the Blue Eaglets, Pessumal made a name for himself for those slashing drives of his. He didn’t shoot too much from the outside. That changed when he moved up to the senior ranks. Now, he’s added a mean outside shot so he’s no longer a one-dimensional player.
Pessumal tallied 20 points, four rebounds, and four assists although that was somewhat negated by his four turnovers. But his performance was solid especially during that fourth quarter binge.
There were anxious moments when Kiefer Ravena went to the bench late in the first period. The offense bogged down. After which for the most part, they struggled.
Through good defense by NU or just plain poor play, some Blue Eagles couldn’t get going.
I laud the attempt to get Adrian Wong going as the team looked for another scorer to help Von Pessumal as Ravena faltered. But those — what, four — attempts to get Wong the ball backfired. If they were hoping he would post up his smaller man it didn’t work because by the time he got the ball it was late in the shot clock or he didn’t even attempt a shot. Good effort though. Hopefully, it will be a little less obvious next time as NU adjusted its defense.
Arvin Tolentino didn’t follow up his big game against UST scoring-wise but he helped out defensively and you have to like that.
Aaron Black looked mostly tentative. Chib Ikeh was sometimes maddening on offense — dunk the ball, man, and stop lofting those soft shots when you can take it strong.
And there were all those missed free throws in the endgame. They could have ended any late threat instead of leaving a window open — 10 missed freebies in the fourth period alone!
Despite the offensive struggle, I love the defensive stand.
There’s this saying where you can have an off-day on offense but not on defense. I disagree. You have to want to play defense. It’s a mindset and it’s all about desire. If you don’t want to play defense that’s going to hurt. Good for the Blue Eagles, they did play great team defense.
And this is where Black, Ikeh, and Wong made up for their offensive woes and this was how the game was won.
Ateneo outrebounded NU, 43-39. Was even up on offensive boards with 10 each. The Blue Eagles had seven blocks to NU’s three.
Aside from the defense, you have to love the way they responded to NU’s sudden surge where they took a brief lead following a Jeff Javillionar undergoal stab to make it 39-38, as part of a 15-1 run to bright the second and third quarters.
Ravena scored a twinner while Von hit back-to-back triples to restore the lead; one they would not surrender the rest of the game.
The game against UST was massive as it came against a team that is above .500 (in terms of win percentage). The two wins against NU.
In writing “A NU Champion,” the book about the Bulldogs’ one-for-the-ages championship run of Season 77, I wrote that for Eric Altamirano’s boys to win the championship, first they had to dispatch Ateneo, even a year removed from its five-peat. The Blue Eagles were the yardstick, the hurdle to confirm their championship aspirations. They took six straight — four in Season 77 -- en route to that title.
Even as FEU and UST are ahead in the race for the Final Four — UST did garner their slot with a win over UP later in the day — for Ateneo to realize their own aspirations, they needed to hurdle NU.
And the Blue Eagles dropped the Bulldogs with that nasty old one-two.