Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

When Old Rivals Meet: The drama and sub-plots behind the Ateneo-UP UAAP Finals

When Old Rivals Meet: The drama and sub-plots behind the Ateneo-UP UAAP Finals
by rick olivares 
pic borrowed from joey hernandez FB profile pic

When the college basketball world was young, it was the University of the Philippines that the first power. They won a few titles before Ateneo upended them in 1929 and eventually became a basketball power in its own right.

Their renaissance began in the early 1980s when they managed to pick up many of the San Beda Red Cubs after their school briefly left the NCAA. However, they faced nothing but heartbreak in the finals. That is until their own version of Moses – in the form of Benjie Paras -- led them to the Promised Land.

Thirty-two years later, they managed to snag that dominant center in Bright Akhuetie, and like Benjie Paras before him, a refugee from the NCAA, he’s had an MVP season. And now there is all the more reason to Bo-lieve -- as they Maroon faithful put it – that the long wait is finally over.

Is it déjà vu all over again?

In 1986, the dominant team was the University of the East. Allan Caidic had graduated and that left Jerry Codinera to hold the fort. He did have a lot of capable help though and it seemed like their would nip Maroon Pride in the bud as they defeated UP in both elimination round games. Come the finals, it was all UP. And in that finals, it was the third man in their Big Three – the other two being Eric Altamirano and Ronnie Magsanoc that year that hurt UE – and that is now the man they call “Coach E”.

UP’s Big Three goes by the name of Akhuetie, Paul Desiderio, and Juan Gomez De Liaño.

When I watch De Liaño, I am reminded by Jeron Teng; although more athletic. When JT came into the league, he was nipping at the heels of a Ravena – Kiefer Ravena to be exact. Now, Gomez De Liaño is the one tugging at the cape of that Superman that is Thirdy Ravena. We all know what JT did – he led DLSU to two titles. And UP has stockpiled on nuclear weapons that they will unleash next season. But why wait ‘til next season?

There are similarities today, but the basketball world has turned around. Ateneo, FEU, and La Salle lord it over the league while UE is down there (and that is putting it mildly). UP has made all sorts of noises in the last three years picking up big wins here and there. They took the big step of making the Final Four and then now, the Finals. And they Bo-lieve it is destiny – there is another Paras – Kobe Paras to be exact -- and this massive reinforcement from La Salle Greenhills in Ricci Rivero both suiting up; albeit for next season. In ’86? That was Joey Guanio.

Are the ingredients all here for an incredible finish? One for the books? We’ll find out.

As for Bo Perasol… what sweet redemption. After all, his first foray in college coaching was with Ateneo where he tasted a modicum of success. After the end of his three-year coaching stint with Ateneo, he returned to his alma mater where he has enjoyed success. It is rather strange that not only will he be coaching against his former team but some of the players helped recruit. He will try to sink Ateneo's incredible season.

How huge is this chance to win a title? For so long, the UP fan reverted to the Pride of ’86. Several generations have passed since. Now, they feel, is the time to create new heroes and new memories.

Standing in their way is Ateneo, an NCAA refugee in its own right, that went through two long droughts before they fought their way out of the rut. And now they are in their 13th UAAP Finals berth (winning nine of them).

They have fended off the challenges of everyone. Like UP, they somewhat struggled to find their groove in the first round (but had to deal with a suspension and injuries) before making a run; hence, a battle between the two hottest teams in the league.

After Ateneo regained the crown in 2002, the joke, especially among its rivals from Taft was that it would take another 14 years to win another championship. It took exactly six years; the beginning of what eventually was a historic five-peat. When that ended, the question was, when would that campus along Loyola Heights taste the bubbly once more? It took five years. And now there is a chance to continue the run.

Everyone likes to talk about winning it as a team. Of course, everyone is a team. The same can be said for UP. But unlike UP which needs its Big Three to go, Ateneo relies on everyone. Sure, Angelo Kouame is the Big Difference, but Isaac Go isn’t chopped liver.

Kouame is the only one set to receive an individual award. Not since 2010 has Ateneo not had anyone receive an individual award. And that is fine with them. They neither care for that. The only thing that matters is defending that crown.

You can bet there is a lot of pressure on Ateneo’s shoulders. They are up against a rival; one that is coached by their former bench master who will not say this so I will say it for him – he wants to prove a lot of people in the blue side of Katipunan wrong. Furthermore, the whole 2019 has been a banner one – three summer league crowns and a sterling William Jones Cup appearance. But that might not be remembered if the defense of the crown goes south.

When these two teams tangled in the second round, there was that incident between Thirdy Ravena and Paul Desiderio. They might be Gilas Cadets teammates, but make no mistake, they’ll be at each other come game time.

While Matt Nieto is almost back to speed, the question too here is will Tyler Tio once more be that UP killer? After all, two of his biggest games to date were superb performances against the Fighting Maroons.

Of course, there is that titanic match-up between Akhuetie and Kouame.

There is so much drama, so many sub-plots in this Finals match up. Two premier schools. The first two college basketball powers in Philippine history.

This is going to be electric.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Fatima stuns Rivero-led UP in BBI hoops

Fatima stuns Rivero-led UP in BBI hoops
by rick olivares

Our Lady of Fatima University made their stunning Breakdown Basketball Invitationals debut with an 82-72 upset win over a Ricci Rivero-led University of the Philippines team last Sunday, November 25, at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center.

The Fatima Phoenix played great defense on UP and they led by a whopping 18-points early in the fourth period after a layup by Rommel Diosa at the nine minute mark.

Rivero who torched Ateneo for 33 points in a win the previous weekend, scored six points in the fourth frame, but he picked up four fouls including a technical foul  --  after he complained about a non-call -- that sent him to the bench for good.

Even with their star misfiring and fouling out, UP kept plugging in behind Evyn Santiago who hit back-to-back triples to slice the lead down to 11, 78-67, with 2:12 left. Santiago had a chance to continue his heroics, but he along with Enzo Battad each botched two free throws that put a crimp on their late rally.

The Phoenix’s Cas De Vera sealed the win for his side with a lay-up with 28 seconds left for the marginal points.

Fatima held UP to 35% field goal shooting while the hit 45% of their shots. Without their Cameroonian center Bruel Kamga who got injured, the Phoenix pounded UP inside behind their Cameroonian import in Chris Essomba who finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 1 block.

As such, Fatima which grabbed 52 boards to UP’s 38 and parleyed their strong inside play into a 44-32 advantage in inside points.

His teammate, Emil Japson also added 13 points.

Rivero finished with 16 points while Enzo Battad added 14 for the 1-1 UP Fighting Maroons.

Ateneo beats FEU in the UAAP Season 81 Final Four: Goodbye to the sledgehammer and the crowbar.

Goodbye to the sledgehammer and the crowbar.
by rick olivares pic by joseph nocos

This is like a best-of-five series between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in the UAAP Final Four dating back to Season 78 with the former taking it, 3-1.

The core of this team met in Season 78 with Mac Belo’s tip sending FEU to the finals (which they won over UST).

They met again the next season with FEU upending Ateneo in Game One of the Final Four. In Game Two, Isaac Go scored on a putback to lift the Blue Eagles to a 69-68 win in overtime that sent Ateneo to the finals.

In Season 80, Isaac Go once more played the hero with his triple to send Game Two of their semis series with FEU into overtime where he tag-teamed with Matt Nieto for an 88-84 win to enter the finals.

So what does the sledgehammer and the crowbar have to do with all of this.

It was after Game Two of the Season 79 Final Four where Tab Baldwin quipped, “You cannot separate these two teams with a sledgehammer and a crowbar.”

And following the 80-61 demolition of FEU in Game One of the Season 81 Final Four where the Blue Eagles led by as much as 31 points, I guess we can all throw out that sledgehammer and crowbar.

There were a few players on FEU’s 2010 squad present – RR Garcia, Terrence Romeo, Achie Iñigo, Roger Pogoy, and Gryann Mendoza – at the Smart Araneta Coliseum for the Final Four match between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the Tamaraws. That was Season 73 in case you want to put it in UAAP terms.

Perhaps for the former Tams, it was déjà vu all over again.

In 2010, they defeated Ateneo in the first and last games of the elimination round. They were making all sorts of noises about unseating the Blue Eagles when they met in the finals.

Except Game One, didn’t go quite as planned. The Tams were crushed in Game One, 72-49, with Emman Monfort putting the clamps on the newly-minted league MVP, RR Garcia. In Game Two, Ryan Buenafe’s killer three lifted the Blue Eagles to a pulsating 65-62 win for the three-peat.

And now, the blue and white juggernaut is back in the finals and is two wins away from annexing the crown.

Just as they did during Game One of the 2010 title game, Ateneo played flat out great defense. The Tams hardly had daylight. The glimmer of hope came early after Ken Tuffin and Arvin Tolentino hit triples from either side of the corner pocket to slice Ateneo’s lead, 10-6. But that was it.

Only four players did well shooting-wise. Barkley Eboña (3/4), LJ Gonzales (3/3), Alec Stockton (2/3), and Arvin Tolentino (2/4). But even that is misleading. Tolentino was shut down and battled foul trouble. Furthermore, he doesn’t take four shots a game. He takes much more than that so four field goal attempts isn’t what FEU had in mind. Stockton was thrown out for a disqualifying foul. As for Eboña, more on him later.

FEU was held to an average of 12 points for the first three quarters. They only did well in the fourth when Ateneo emptied its bench.

Ateneo repeatedly attacked that basket with Thirdy Ravena setting the tone with back-to-back dunks.

The ball movement was superb and the offense – at least for the first 33 minutes – was devastating. And for the most part, Ateneo didn’t step off the gas pedal (well, until the bench didn’t perform well late in the game). Tone and pace of the game aside, I was puzzled by some of FEU’s moves.

I was surprised that Eboña played only 16 minutes. He gave Ateneo fits early in the game. Why didn’t he play alongside with Orizu who was mostly ineffective (well, he just got back from an injury and isn’t 100%)? Why was Orizu sent to the bench when Angelo Kouame went to the bench? I thought that he should have stayed in the game because they sorely needed to reduce that deficit.

I know Jasper Parker struggled but in a game like this, I would unleash him and all their veterans. But of course, that is just me.

Other than the great defense, I have some quibbles.

I think the bench wavered. When the starters were off the court, FEU pressed (they don’t press much when Matt Nieto is on the court). I know they should be ready whatever the circumstance (the rotation usually gets shorter come the bigger games) and it was a bit surprising to see them not rise to the challenge.

Having said that, maybe Tab Baldwin can keep some of the starters on the court with the bench players -- and he did this at some point when he brought back Thirdy Ravena into the game to help the bench out. That would help them out. I do not mean to tell the coach how to do his job, after all, he knows much more. But just to illustrate, previously, either Greg Slaughter or Kiefer Ravena were on either on the court together or would alternate to backstop the team.

And what is it with all those double fouls. How can there be so many double fouls? Did both fouls occur at the same time? I don’t get that at all.

Nevertheless, Ateneo is back in the finals while FEU will have to rebuild as they are losing Tolentino, Orizu, Richard Escoto, RJ Ramirez, and Axel Iñigo. I think Prince has a year to go but I am not sure if he will play this out. It was also sad to see that Tolentino had to be on the losing side and I appreciate his thank you to the Ateneo crowd. Like his teammates, I wish them well in the next stage of their lives.

Next up, is winning the title against either Adamson on UP. Can we use that sledgehammer on either of them? We’re going to find out.