That familiar fire and the F-word
by rick olivares
You feel that familiar fire in your body with every win? How about that bounce in your step as the Ateneo Blue Eagles continue their inexorable march to the Final Four and hopefully, beyond?
No one likes to bring up the “F-word” (for "Five-peat" you dirty-minded mongrel) as it is long over….. but there are subtle reminders… Kief’s still there and so are Von and Gwyne. And there’s a Black on the team. Except he’s a sparkplug off the bench and not the coach patrolling the sidelines. If you want more links to our storied past — well, Gene Afable is still there as an assistant coach and there are the Nietos. Not Jet who is a long ways done with his playing career and now sits a few rows behind the team but his twin sons Mike and Matt. Matt whose game resembles Olsen Racela’s so much that I have a fit every time he drives and takes those shots (yes, I saw Olsen play from third year high to the RP Youth to the Blue Eagles to Purefoods to San Miguel the entire evolution of his game). Also on the bench is Blue Eagles team manager Epok Quimpo who drilled that backbreaker of a triple against La Salle in Game Three for the 2002 championship. Oh, Quimpo’s team knows something all about poor first round performances and second round streaks (not to mention miracle wins).
And for good measure, there’s a mighty assist from our neighbours in the Western end of Katipunan Avenue with Ronnie Magsanoc who helped end UP’s long title drought in 1986. When you think about it, the Blue Eagles team that Gene Afable and Jet Nieto played on also ended Ateneo’s title drought (1987-88).
All those winners on the sidelines who are helping the team put it all together... that’s like loading up on good karma credits.
Could there be a chance…? Definitely. Although it isn't easy as it is still stacked against Ateneo but as officially the hottest team in this second round, the Blue Eagles are peaking at the right time.
Now in this game, the Blue Eagles grabbed one huge win against that familiar old nemesis, La Salle. And it was like when the blue and white used to slap the league silly with one win after another.
Ateneo and La Salle run pro-style offenses. The Blue Eagles seem at times to prefer isolation plays while the Green Archers run the dribble drive (in the PBA there are three types — motion, dribble drive and the triangle).
During the first half La Salle seemed like they could do no wrong as their dribble drive worked to perfection. Jeron Teng played the excellent role of facilitator while finding his teammates with aplomb. Then Joshua Torralba flashed Von Pessumal three fingers after hitting a shot from the left corner. And I thought, shades of Robert Bolick years ago. Don’t get cocky, kid.
The Green Archers were very aggressive on offense racking up points, assists, and fouls on Ateneo. The Blue Eagles’ response wasn’t what Bo Perasol had in mind. “Gigil,” he lamented later on. "Sobra." That's how the best laid plans of men and mice sometimes happen when you want to get back at a foe who took the first round match up. Yet, the fundamental mistake was not being able to close down shooters like Torralba.
The result was 14 inside points (coming from 6 assists) for La Salle to the paltry 4 for the blue and whites in the first quarter and a 23-13 score for the former.
It was the bench, led by Aaron Black that anchored that second quarter comeback. La Salle didn’t have anyone who could guard the son of Norman whose first step is spell binding. That floater over a flailing Abu Tratter was a thing of beauty.
Then there’s that thing from the F-word of seasons past — that halftime adjustment. Packing the lane, closing down the shooters, and giving La Salle a dose of their dribble drive. It was a reversal of the first round script. That 23-9 third quarter blitz — remember those third quarter binges during the five — ahhhh there’s that f-word again — saw Ateneo take control of the game.
The result was as close as to masterful win as there was.
Starters: Ateneo 43 points to La Salle’s 39
Bench: Ateneo 30 to La Salle’s 23 points
Rebounds: 48-34 with a 15-11 edge in offensive boards by Ateneo
2nd Chance Points: 10-0 for Ateneo
Fastbreak points: 14-2 for Ateneo
Free throws: 23/31 (74%) to La Salle’s 12/24 (50%)
La Salle scored 34 inside points to Ateneo’s 26
Had 15 assists to Ateneo’s mere 6!
And 20 turnovers points to Ateneo’s 9.
And the scoring punch to help Kiefer Ravena?
Von Pessumal scattered 17 points including seven big points in the final quarter. His contributions are crucial. During the first round, he was hardly a factor in the fourth period. This second round, he has definitely made his presence felt.
Ravena finished with 15 while Black chipped in 13 and Adrian Wong had 10.
La Salle could only count on the magnificent Prince Rivero (16 points) to back up Teng’s 11.
The other big plus that went Ateneo’s way?
The halftime cheering by the Blue Babble Battalion and ye good old F-word -- Fight! As in One Big Fight.
Let the NUs, USTs, and UPs have their Cheer Dance titles. All we want to do is cheer our old cheers, songs, yells, and win championships. With BBB alumni and alumnae on hand to back up the current crop -- that was perhaps the best halftime cheering all season long. The cheers were so loud that my hair stood up! I am plenty sure that helped spur on the team on in the second half and towards the end game.
There was a moment that was like deja vu of the negative kind as Adrian Wong once more slipped and a Green Archer hightailed in for their lone-fastbreak layup. The same thing happened in the first game. But this time, Ateneo was more resilient and withstood the last ditch rally by La Salle.
And the result is a huge 73-62 win (you also have to consider the distractions from the Chib Ikeh incident as well) to give Ateneo a 9-4 record solidifying a spot in the — here’s that F-word - “Final Four" where we hope to land a spot in the "F"inals.
Ah, but you already knew that.
|With the Man... Von Pessumal|
|With former Blue Eaglet sharpshooter and good friend Raffy Veloso|
|With members of the UAAP swim champs|
|With former Blue Eagle Jobe Nkemakolam and Rolly Manlapaz|
|With CJ Perez who will be on the Blue Eagles' roster in Season 79|