My thoughts post-loss to La Salle
by rick olivares
This is going to be a long one.
I am not going to totally dissect the game but instead write my thoughts and feelings. And I will begin with a flashback and throw in a number of them as I go on. So bear with me.
During the 1988 season, Ateneo was favored to defend its first ever UAAP Men’s Basketball Title. The team had only lost sharpshooter Nonoy Chuatico who worked for a bit before playing for the national team where he would be named team captain.
La Salle was making noises about knocking that crown off Ateneo’s head. UST was good. FEU was good. UP was still good as they had Benjie Paras and Joey Guanio and a former Blue Eaglet named Alfie Manlulo.
Over at UE, the pre-season talk was about this dude from the south named Bong Ravena. He served his residency the previous year and was going to suit up. In that day and age of no internet or wireless technology, Ravena’s reputation as a high flying destroyer was by word of mouth.
During the first game of that UAAP season, the Blue Eagles went up against the Warriors (at that time, they didn’t use the adjective “Red” and Bong Ravena. He was a one-man wrecking crew for UE that was in year one of its post-Jerry Codinera phase. Jolly Escobar was also in his first year and played center for UE alongside Jojo Mariquit. They still had snipers Vernie Villarias and Modesto Hojilla. Their lone link to their championship past was point guard Boycie Zamar who was in his last playing year.
Ravena gave us a difficult time in that match, he repeatedly attacked that basket and carried UE on his broad shoulders. To us in the stands at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, we were praying for the game clock to hasten to its end because no one could stop Ravena. In the end, Ravena simply ran out of time, as Ateneo walked away with a squeaker. He took some a bunch of shots, made some; missed some. But UE knew that they had their closer.
The Blue Eagles went on to win the championship while UE stewed. One year later, Ravena carried them to the finals only to lose to a deep La Salle team. And he went down shooting.
Twenty-four years later, Bong’s son, incredibly, is the man for Ateneo. In some ways, the son did his pop better as he was a major part of two title teams in the seniors (three in the juniors).
What am I getting at?
When it is crunch time, the ball goes to the Man. He might have a bad game but it goes to the Man. If the coach designs a play for someone else, then so be it.
If you go back to 2002, before Gec Chia’s game winner over UE in the Final Four, it was Chia who hit the previous basket. The team simply went to the hot hand.
Does it always go to the hot hand?
In 2006, Macky Escalona had an exceptional Game Three versus UST. However, in the final play, Norman Black drew the play for the Man that year — JC Intal. Would I have gone with JC or Macky. That depends. In Game One, the ball went to Doug Kramer who scored the game winner. My thought is to trust the coach.
Hence, I believe that the ball should have still gone to Kiefer.
Yes, maybe he should have gone to the hole instead of trying to hit a tough fade especially since he missed some shots before that. But the thing is, the Man tried.
I cannot for the life of me see how he is a ballhog. As of last Sunday, Kiefer is leading THE LEAGUE IN ASSISTS with 5.0 and a total of 35 assists a game. And he doesn’t play the one-spot and is ahead temporarily of starting point guards like Mike Tolomia who has 30, Joseph Nalos who has 29, and Gelo Alolino who has 21.
Incidentally, Ravena also lead the UAAP in assists during Season 77 with 88 dishes! That is 32 assists more than the second best passer who was Roi Sumang.
As for Kief’s struggles. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen him struggle. There was Season 76 where he came back from an injury and then if I recall, there was a part during Season 74 where he had a tough time. Some people question how he has changed his free throw stance. When you’re not shooting right, you try to tinker. It’s a mechanical and mental challenge. Hopefully, they can help him correct that and get his confidence back.
Kiefer goes into the ball game thinking of how to help his teammates get good shots. In fact, I think you should credit more than half of John Apacible’s buckets to Kiefer who has repeatedly found him for a good shot.
Yes, it was a painful and disappointing loss. Eto yung game na much like the UST match where panalo na natalo pa. But I didn’t feel down as much as I used to. I have since adjusted my expectations. It is what it is - a team filled with newbies, blue chip newbies, that are learning to play together.
I recall a game in the Home and Away League (the predecessor of the Filoil tourney that used to be played in the second semester and not the summer) right before Chris Tiu left to spend a few months in a school in France. That team had Japeth Aguilar, Ford Arao, Doug Kramer, Macky Escalona etc. The Blue Eagles were playing the San Sebastian Stags. Ateneo was leading throughout that game and in fact, Japeth Aguilar threw down one of the most incredible dunks that most people have never seen — he blocked a shot, corralled the loose ball and galloped down for a thunderous jam on two Stags. But Ateneo lost when Chris Tiu tried to find teammates instead of taking the shot himself. Following the match, Sandy Arespacochaga chewed out Chris for his decision making in the end game. Bawled him out. As I recall it, Chris felt so bad that the thought of not coming back crossed his mind. But he did. In fact, he became a better player making better decisions and taking better shots. And he did captain that 2008 title team.
And oh, Rico Villanueva understands poor games and slumps all too well. And he did come back a winner.
Back to the Ateneo-La Salle game, I liked the game plan of the Blue Eagles, concocted by the coaching staff. Their zone was close to being impenetrable in the first half. They gave La Salle a dose of its own dribble drive offense (I suddenly remembered Ateneo when Chot Reyes was coaching and he gave the Green Archers a dose of their own triangle-and-two) for a huge win. For the first time all season long it looked like that things have clicked.
However, think we have to credit La Salle. They made their adjustments in the second half — one they started in the second quarter but perfected in the third where they had Jeron Teng attacking right up the middle. His repeated drived forced the Ateneo guards to double and that freed up their outside shooters. If you watch the first half, they ran pretty much the same sets except they botched their shots. They nailed them in the second half.
You know during Norman Black’s time, he would always say let’s own the paint and dare the others to beat us from the outside. That doesn’t mean they didn’t defend the perimeter, they tried. Sometimes they weren’t successful. Most of the time they were.
Same in this game.
Should Coach Bo Perasol have used Chibueze Ikeh more? Yes, I think so. But Ikeh came out of his shell to play solid this game. I hope they unleash him in the next game. He does wreak havoc on the court.
Was the coach right in pulling out Jerie Pingoy for a breather? Definitely, there was that lob to Ikeh that was telegraphed and defended well as well as another poor offensive set. But he was brought back into the game. And boy, Jerie Pingoy saved his coming out party for his first Ateneo-La Salle game. He was sensational dropping dimes and that scrumptious reverse layup.
Lest you think I am using kid gloves on the coaching staff, let me backtrack a bit.
After the win over NU, I was critical for the first time of what the coaching staff ran. Isolation after isolation. And that was after a win.
But the offense and the defense have improved since. We play nothing like we did following the opening day debacle. We’d love for the progress to be swifter but it isn’t easy. The offense is far better then and were it not for some miscues, we could be 6-1 now.
After a botched play against La Salle down the stretch, I looked down from where I was seated and looked at Coach Bo. He slapped his palms as he knew that the game had slipped away. I felt bad for him to be honest.
At that moment, I didn’t want to be selfish. I want the win just as much as any Atenean. I wanted this win for Bo. Man, every single coach since the modern program was put in place — from Joe Lipa to Joel Banal to Sandy Arespacochaga to Norman Black - can relate to the pressure. I may not agree with all his strategies. I may not agree with all his substitutions. But he is our coach. I wasn’t sure of him back during the nominations for Norman’s replacement. But when he went over to the stands to fight a La Sallian heckler, man, I am on his side.
When I asked Joe Lipa who has become a dear friend why he only raised his first for the Ateneo alma mater song during his first and last game, he told me, that one alumnus — an ass if there was ever one — said he shouldn’t do so because he never went to school in Loyola Heights. I felt bad. Anyone who represents our school has the right to do so. Did Norman go to Ateneo? Did Joel go to Ateneo? During those NCAA years, Al Dunbar, who guided Ateneo to a pair of titles, went to University of San Francisco (right after Bill Russell graduated but played with his brother Charles Russell) go to Ateneo?
In many ways, this team reminds me somewhat (except that this is more rookie and newbie laden) of the 2002 team. They looked nothing like champions in the first round. Many wondered what the heck Joel Banal was doing. There were galling losses then in the first round. They did put it together and went on to win it all ending 14 years of heartache.
The season has been trying. Definitely we could be 6-1 as opposed to 4-3. Honestly? I am excited for the second round. I hope they can put it together and we can see that deadly form they flashed for a half against La Salle more consistently.
In 1988, we prayed up in the bleachers for time to run out on our foe.
This year, we’ve got the son of that Man on our side. And there’s still time. And that’s the second round.