Ateneo Blue Eaglets: That One Big Fight against the Adamson Baby Falcons
by rick olivares
For the first time all season long, the Ateneo Blue Eaglets picked up a huge win against a Final Four opponent; an 82-73 victory over the tough and talented Adamson Baby Falcons at the San Juan Arena.
Entering the match, the Blue Eaglets were at 7-4; two losses each coming at the hands of undefeated National University and second-running De La Salle Zobel. The Falcons are the only other team other than NU to deal DLSZ a loss so you know they cannot be taken lightly. And these Falcons are tall, tough, athletic, deep, and can shoot.
So the match up was between the league’s second best defensive team (Adamson) and the second best offensive team (Ateneo). But with solo third spot on the line, it was Ateneo that showed its defensive mettle.
This was a battle that was won through sheer heart, hard work and defense, and teamwork.
The defending champions have missed a beat without the Nieto brothers who are now in the seniors team. Gian Mamuyac and Shaun Ildefonso have stepped into the breach to add to the scoring. In fact, Ateneo is the second highest scoring team in the league; second to De La Salle Zobel with 76.7 ppg.
The point in question however is defense where the Blue Eaglets are ranked fifth.
Late in the game, they lost Jolo Mendoza and Jossier Hassan fouled out in succession with Ateneo holding a 71-70 lead with a good three minutes left to play. Losing your leader and leading scorer is huge. Hassan played a superb game finishing with a line 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist. He was plagued by foul trouble (with all sorts of phantom calls whistled his way). But he moved well without the ball and was active on both ends of the court. I’d say this is probably the best I have seen him play. His leaner frame has not made him any less weak and I made sure to credit Coach Aris Manalo who has been working on the Blue Eaglet’s strength and conditioning for years now.
And with their key losses to fouls, they also had to deal with spotty officiating that plagued them throughout the match. It would be easy to roll over and lose the game given the fouling out of two key players. But no. The Blue Eaglets battled back from a 16-point in the first half and nine-point deficit at the start of the fourth period. When they overhauled the lead late in the game, they held on to it for good.
Hard work and defense.
If you ask me, the Baby Falcons are more talented man for man. The hallmark of Blue Eaglet basketball is encapsulated in one word that they cheer in the huddle (if not “defense”) — “sipag.”
The beat the taller Baby Falcons on the boards — 49-46. They had 10 steals to the 7 of Adamson and committed three fewer turnovers than Adamson’s 23. Plus, they finished with five blocks; three more than the Baby Falcons!
While their full court defense isn’t like last year’s model, it can still be pretty devastating. Mind you, Adamson are no slouches as they have the excellent Raygan Santos and Jayson Celis to bring up the ball. Throw in Ralf Chua as someone who can bring down that ball as well.
The Blue Eaglets held the Baby Falcons to 15 points in the fourth period while scoring 28 points!
When Hassan fouled out with 2:44 to play (the score was still 71-70), Adamson added only two more points while Ateneo 11 points the rest of the way. They scored six points inside the lane and added 5-6 free throws.
Here’s a stat that is one of the first that I look at — assists — and the Blue Eaglets had one more, 6-15. Through 11 matches, they were averaging 17.0 assists a game, second to DLSZ. To finish with 16 is not so bad.
The other thing that I look at is what every player does. Ateneo coach Joe Silva fielded 13 players. Of the 13, only Alfonso Rosales and Sandro Soriano were unable to add to any stat be it a rebound, assist, steal, or block. Nevertheless, the minutes they contributed spelled some rest for their teammates and that counts. Furthermore, you could see how the bench stood up to recognize teammates as they went to the bench for whatever contributions they made. And the coaching staff made great in-game adjustments! Now that’s a team that is coming together.
The Blue Eaglets have three players averaging in double digits — Jolo Mendoza, Gian Mamuyac, and Shaun Ildefonso who has grown by leaps and bounds this year. They also get some valuable help from SJ Belangel, Bryan Andrade, and RV Berjay. Point guard Justin Eustaquio played one of his best games. Like Hassan the stat line might not show a double double but he played the point guard spot with aplomb. He hustled, played hard, and wasn’t bullied at all by the taller foes.
The Blue Eaglets, now at 8-4, have two more matches to play — against UST and FEU. The challenge is to play them one at the time and not get caught up in the big picture yet.
The team responded to a great challenge from a team they could meet again.
UAAP Juniors team standings: