Learning to win
by rick olivares
You would think that the Ateneo Blue Eagles finally learned their lesson after oft being asked to go to the blackboard to write, “I will not collapse again” a hundred times.
After back-to-back collapses (see the La Salle first round game and the second round FEU tussle), the biggest question heading into the 10th game of the season was -- can the Blue Eagles hold on to a late lead?
For sure the Blue Eagles, rookie/newbie-laden and all, matched up well with UST. They’ve got the depth, the talent, and for sure, the height. Just not the experience. Losses though, are a memorable teacher. The jarring first round loss last September 26, 68-58, started all this talk of a team that coughed up late leads. And true enough, throughout Season 78 so far, the Blue Eagles have spotted leads to Adamson, NU, UE, La Salle, UST, and FEU late in the game only to fall apart in the clutch.
A huge early lead oft saved them as opponents outscored them in the second half.
Well, in this crucial second round bout, UST outscored them, incredibly in the second half, 46-39, but the response by the Blue Eagles in the clutch carried them to victory. This isn't a game where the final buzzer saved them. They took this from the erstwhile league-leading Tigers. The Blue Eagles found their end game nerve to triumph, 80-74, over the UST Growling Tigers for their second most important triumph of the season.
The first important win was over the National University Bulldogs in the first round. And now this.
Why is this a massive win?
It gives the Blue Eagles, now at 6-4, some space between them and the National University Bulldogs who are at 4-6. Idle La Salle is at 5-4.
FEU is one of the biggest beneficiaries because it puts them in the driver’s seat at 8-1 with a match at hand.
The triumph also provides a massive dose of confidence for the Blue Eagles who nearly squandered a late 16-point lead once more but this time answered UST’s patented late rallies with some huge buckets down the stretch.
Let’s break down this win shall we?
This is the first game of the season where Ateneo led from start to finish. No lead changes whatsoever.
This is the second consecutive game where Ateneo had more inside (26-20) and perimeter (34-30) points than its opponent.
The bench really came through scoring 43 points to UST bench production of 26. Aaron Black has all the makings of Ateneo’s next big time scorer. Adrian Wong played great. Gwyne Capacio gave a solid solid five minutes. Ikeh finished with six rebounds and two blocks but his presence altered many more. Even Isaac Go gave another good account for himself.
It was a great defensive effort.
1st meeting with UST
Ateneo 32.8% FG shooting
UST 35.2% FG shooting
2nd meeting with UST
Ateneo 45% FG shooting
UST 34.4% FG shooting
How good was that defense?
Kevin Ferrer was held to 1-11 shooting (the last a harmless trey at the game buzzer) by the defense.
You know what this game reminded me of? The 2005 game against FEU in the second round where Ateneo’s defense, led by Japeth Aguilar, stymied Arwind Santos. In the first round meeting, Santos was imperious even humiliating Aguilar on defense. In that second round game, Aguilar had a pair of two big time swats on Santos that had him quiet the rest of the day.
Cut forward 10 years later to this Ateneo-UST encounter. When Ateneo revved up its defense in the first period with Chib Ikeh blocking Ferrer that he staggered back to the baseline — it set the tone. And Arvin Tolentino picked up on that D by stealing the ball from Ferrer and forcing a turnover on the King Tiger following an inbound! Defense by Arvin Tolentino — what in the world is going on?
Unlike in the first round encounter where Ferrer was the only one in double figures (27 points scored in that outing), this time, he had lots of help. Ed Daquioag scored 19. Marvin Lee, 15. Ferrer finished with 13 and Karim Abdul had 12. Those four players scored a total of 20 points in the fourth quarter. But you gotta check out Marvin Lee, their rookie by way of FEU. He has the makings of a big time guard for the Tigers. He shot better than 50% against Ateneo for the second straight game. Potential-Eagle killer here.
So how did Ateneo fashion out this win?
They held UST scoreless for long stretches. Their scoring 20 points came late especially when UST started getting calls.
The Tigers’ first basket of the fourth came at the 7:24 mark; two free throws by Abdul, 65-54 still Ateneo. It took UST another full minute before they scored again; once more a three-point play by Abdul, 68-57.
Lee scored on a lay-up at the 5:04 mark, 70-59.
This was the danger zone. In the first round encounter, this is where Ateneo began to really crumble. The Blue Eagles spotted UST a 57-51 lead and scored one point the rest of the way.
This second round, Ateneo had an 11-point lead that they nursed. It would still have been an 11-point win but Ferrer was allowed a late late trey with a second left. More on this later.
The next UST bucket came at the 4:21 mark.
The next at 3:12. The Tigers had a tough time scoring. Ateneo had stopped the third-best scoring team in the UAAP. Furthermore, the Blue Eagles found the resilience to top the second best defense team that previously allowed only 64 points a match by dumping 80 on them! That is the most number of points scored against them this year (La Salle poured in 79 against them but it still wasn’t enough).
And Ateneo found that third scorer in Arvin Tolentino who exploded for 20 points (3-5 triples, 4-5 two-point buckets, and 3-4 free throws). The sophomore stole a page from Kevin Ferrer’s clutch playbook when he drilled in 13 points in the fourth quarter (in contrast, Ferrer scored 11 in the payoff period of their first round encounter). He drilled in triples from Jimmy Alapag range. Nailed a medium range pull up.
And that includes my "Play of the Game” that is a serious mindfuck.
5:21 Fourth Quarter: Two-on-two break. Matt Nieto threw a crazy bounce pass between two Tigers and just ahead of them too. Arvin Tolentino put on the jets, collected the ball, and glided in — and any time you see a 6’5” playa swooping in towards the basket with his hands cradling the ball as if it were a toy is freaking awesome — for a no dribble lay-up, 70-57 for Ateneo. This should go down as one of the best plays of the entire tournament!
However, just as there is good, there is still some aspects of the game that need improving.
Okay, the team found a way to stay glued in the clutch but you still have to look at UST outscoring Ateneo in the second half. You might say, that the late Ferrer trey was a let-go situation. But you want to play to the final buzzer.
Furthermore, on two separate occasions, the first and the third period, UST found itself into early penalty situation. Ateneo did not really capitalize on the situation by making UST pay for that. Instead, they began to settle for jumpers! Attack the interior.
In the fourth period, UST scored 10 inside points to Ateneo’s four. You cannot fall in love with that jumpshot.
I think the team has to recognize the advantages it has on the floor. And this isn’t the first time they didn’t capitalize on an opponent being in a bonus situation.
Having said that, this team is learning to win. You should know at the end of the first round, team benefactor Manny Pangilinan took pause with all the brouhaha surrounding the team to say, “You know, 4-3 isn’t so bad considering there are so many new players.”
6-4 isn’t so bad either. Season isn’t over.
Good job, coaches and players!