This appears in the Monday, November 23, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.
Down from the hill: My thoughts after Ateneo's Final Four loss to FEU.
by rick olivares
First of all, let me offer my congratulations to FEU. Good luck in the Finals.
Now that is out of the way, where do you begin after a painful loss like this?
You think, think some more and there are multiple images.
You have to start with the dizzying last few seconds where Adrian Wong hightailed it down the court for what should or could have been a game winning layup. He missed (I thought that he got fouled by Monbert Arong). All I know is that Mac Belo scored with less than a second left and for the second straight season, Ateneo is ousted in the final play of the game.
I saw Coach Nash Racela race to the court with his fist up high then he suddenly realized that he was right in front of the Ateneo bench and he put on the breaks and began to shake hands. Some folks got angry at what seemed like a sign of disrespect but in all honesty, I doubt if he meant any jab.
There was Wong walking to the bench and punching the seat. He let out a cry of anguish. He could have won it for Ateneo but he bungled a layup that gave the ball to FEU one last time wherein they scored right at the buzzer. Mike Tolomia walked over to console him.
And my mind raced back to that Ateneo-UST game from 1985 when Pido Jarencio caught fire in the last few minutes dousing the slim Blue Eagle lead. That win ended Ateneo's chance of catching up to them for the right to play UE. With less than a minute left in the game and UST in firm control, Aric Del Rosario pulled out Jarencio but the King Glowing Goldie didn’t go to his bench but to Ateneo’s where he shook the hand of each and every player and said that their time will come.
Thirty years later, it is almost the same scenario. Except it is Tolomia consoling Wong and Matt Nieto who were both crying on the bench. Tolomia told them that their time will come. It is an eerie moment of deja vu. For when Pido Jarencio made that gesture, Jet Nieto, the father of Matt and Mike, was on the Blue Eagles’ bench. Two years after that, Jet was part of Ateneo’s first UAAP title team (and they won back-to-back championships).
There were the parents of the players. Some in tears, some in shock that it is all over. Some are angry at what they perceived was a crucial non-call during Wong’s layup attempt. Outside the coliseum, FEU freshman Wendell Comboy makes mano to the parents of Matt and Mike Nieto.
There was Bo Perasol who after the singing of the alma mater wanted to go forward to the Ateneo gallery and wave and say his goodbyes. But he was unsure of himself or if it would be all right. He turned to go to the dugout. I wanted to bring him to the front but the moment passed us by. And I apologized to him for not doing it when we talked inside the locker room post-match.
Can you imagine that? That’s terrible.
Talk about missed opportunities.
The concern of the coaching staff prior to the game was the rebounding battle. We lost badly, 45-33 with a 20-9 discrepancy on the offensive glass. None more damaging than that offensive rebound that Mac Belo hauled down and converted for the marginal points.
The Blue Eagles scored more points inside the lane and from the perimeter. It was really the second chance points that did us in — from that game tying triple by Roger Pogoy and Belo’s putback. FEU scored 19 to our 13 in second chance points.
And there’s the matter of the fouls called, 16-24 in FEU’s favor that saw them take 32 attempts from the free throw line to Ateneo’s mere 16.
That was the game in a nutshell and that is all you need to know.
During days, or more appropriately, losses like this, old hurts and wounds come to the surface and you wonder which loss was actually more painful. There is no difference. They all hurt. Everyone of them.
But the pain and the hurtful scenes are juxtaposed with brighter ones.
There was Von Pessumal who stood on a chair, not quite Enrico Villanueva that glorious night of October 5, 2002 when we celebrated a championship against La Salle. He raised two hands in a sign of thanks to the blue and white gallery. Then he thrust forth his jersey with the “Ateneo” in front for all to see. Imagine that… the guy is probably hurting more because he lived it and he is out there saying thank you.
There was Ponso Gotladera who himself was in tears. The words I heard from several weeks ago still ring in my ear — he was glad to change zip codes for it is in Ateneo where he was given a chance and where he blossomed. When it was all but over, he made his way to the stands to hug his mom, Janet, who would skip work just to see her boy play. It was a bittersweet sight.
Gotladera wasn’t the only one who made his way to the stands. There was Kiefer Ravena who sought out his mom, Mozzy, who sat next to Janet Gotladera. Kiefer carried the team for so long, endured trying times, and painful ones as well. But he gave the school five championships — three in the Juniors Division and two in the seniors. He is one of those players who we will tell our next generation of kin, “You should have seen the Phenom play…"
There were FEU’s drummers who belted out “Go Ateneo” as a sign of respect to which the Ateneo drums replied in kind. When was the last time we had that kind of sportsmanship? That was Season 70 right in the middle of the Finals between La Salle and UE where La Salle’s Pep Squad played “Go Ateneo” when Chris Tiu was named to the Mythical Five that season.
On my way home, with my mind still ablaze with so many thoughts. They jumped from one thought to another until it settled on something that Fr. Ben Nebres wrote in his foreword to my first Ateneo book, The 18th Banner: “These championships do not come easily or often to us at the Ateneo and we savor them all the more.”
And that is true. We all know we cannot win them all the time. That is why the championships are special.
It’s a painful loss. Who wasn’t crying at the end? Assistant coach Xavy Nunag buried his face in his hands. Hubert Cani who didn’t play at all was in tears.
"It didn’t end the way I wanted it to end," said Bo Perasol after the match. “I would have been nice to have sent the series to a do-or-die match.”
Perasol paused for half a minute…. maybe he was fighting off the pain of the loss; maybe he was still surprised that it was all over. But he recovered as we always do, "But we did give them (FEU) One Big Fight,” he grinned.
And you know what? He is right. Bad calls, non-calls aside, we were in a position to win. As for that One Big Fight? That is all we ever ask.
Additional reading: The last interview of Bo Perasol as Ateneo head coach