Awakenings - UAAP Game 3 Ateneo 73 vs UE 76
Round One UAAP Season 70
by Rick Olivares
July 15, 2007
Ninoy Aquino Stadium
A royal flush
The beat reporters exchanged notes. The Ateneo Blue Eagles were in for a beating, many opined. The UE Red Warriors were too deep and too tough. Their vaunted trap would once more stymie Ateneo’s sleek passing game. Some digressed and said that the Loyola Heights squad’s unblemished slate wasn’t a fluke despite their being seeded fifth at the start of the season. They haven’t played a good team yet, argued one long-time college basketball reporter and this afternoon was their acid test.
When the final buzzer went off and the UE gallery exploded into cheers as their team escaped with a hard-fought 79-76 win, some scribes agreed that not only were the Red Warriors for real, but so were the Blue Eagles. The game with its play-off like atmosphere was clearly winnable by the Loyola Heights squad were it not for a pair of turnovers in the waning moments. But then again, matches between the two schools have always been hard-fought.
There are eight schools in the Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines. They’ve played with that line-up for some 20 years now and that’s more than enough time for each one to develop rivalries with each other.
Ateneo’s acknowledged chief rivals may be La Salle and the University of the Philippines, but with the UE Red Warriors… there’s no love lost ever since former Blue Eagle Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan turned his family-owned school into a hoops power with a six-foot-one center from Baguio City who liked to play point guard on occasion… Robert Jaworski. It was customary back then for the champions of the UAAP and the NCAA to meet in the post-season to decide which league was better and each team would pull one over the other all the time. When Ateneo, the undisputed basketball King of the NCAA, moved in 1978 to the UAAP where its former King, UE ruled the hoops landscape, the battles just got a lot fiercer.
In 1982, a small Ateneo line-up led by Chot Reyes and Jeric Hechanova upset the Warriors team led by (almost Blue Eagle) Allan Caidic and Jerry Codinera. Recalled Hechanova, “If there was a three point shot at that time, we would have beaten them all the time. We only had Mike Facundo to match up against Jerry and the Warriors were so tall. So we did a lot of our damage from shooting outside.” But at the end of the day, Ateneo got their licks in, but it was the red and white that won back-to-back titles.
In 1987, Ateneo finally broke out of the doldrums of its defection from the NCAA to win its first UAAP crown at the expense of the Warriors. It is a defeat that still rankles Codinera to this day (he lost back-to-back finals to UP and Ateneo).
But UE had their revenge in 1990 when they ousted Ateneo from championship contention when Richie Ticzon missed a pair of free throws with almost no time left on the game clock. The Warriors were led by Ferdinand “Bong” Ravena who was in his third year in the league and their unorthodox center Jolly Escobar (they lost to DLSU in a one-sided the finals) while Ateneo was bannered by Olsen Racela and Eric Reyes.
Now the assistant coach of Dindo Pumaren, Ravena still remembers the rivalry all too well. “Every one got up for Ateneo whether malakas sila or mahina,” recalled the former King Warrior who went on to win the Philippine Basketball Association’s Rookie of the Year Award with San Miguel (beating out Presto Ice Cream’s Vergel Meneses). “There’s something about beating them.”
The rivalry was revived when former player turned coach David Zamar (who played on UE’s ’84 & ’85 title teams) fielded the deadly troika of James Yap, Ronald Tubid, and Paul Artadi who had many memorable battles with the Blue Eagles of Rico Villanueva, Rich Alvarez, and LA Tenorio. But the blue and whites played heartbreakers once more when Gec Chia knocked out UE with a buzzer-beating game winner that propelled Ateneo to the 2002 championship.
The cast of players may have changed but on the bench of UE sits an all-too familiar foe -- Dindo Pumaren who played for UE during his elementary years before moving over to La Salle where his talent-laden team fell to Ateneo in 1988. His older brother Franz may have won the 2001 title at Ateneo’s expense, but Dindo would love nothing more than attaining redemption through his own means.
The Warriors have won every pre and post-season title in the last few years. But the one title that has eluded their grasp for the longest time is the UAAP Men’s Basketball crown – something they last won when they trounced Pido Jarencio’s UST Glowing Goldies squad in 1985. And even with De La Salle’s return to the league, UE is considered as one of the heavy favorites to slug it out for the crown and to put an end to a 22-year UAAP drought.
The return of the King
For the second straight year, the Blue Eagles entered the collegiate hoop wars on stealth mode. The graduation of its stars were said to weaken the team’s chances since all they had were underperforming veterans and a bunch of untested rookies. But that’s just the way the coaching staff likes it. Low key profile but high on returns.
The season has been a revelation so far for several Blue Eagles. Claiford Arao has gone prime time. Jai Reyes has shut up the naysayers who wondered aloud if he was a one-dimensional player who could only spot up for a trey. And Jobe Nkemakolam has shown that he’s a keeper and can provide points, rebounding, and defense up front.
Quite noticeable in the team’s two wins was the absence of Chris Tiu’s scoring. While his contributions to the game go beyond the bottom of the net, the team’s co-captain is also perhaps its most deft playmaker.
Tiu has been getting good looks at the basket except that the shots aren’t falling. The coaching staff has urged him to continue because eventually, he’s bound to get going. And once he does then Ateneo will be firing on all cylinders.
And on Sunday, Norman Black tried to get his gunner untracked from the opening whistle. Although Tiu nailed his first shot of the game, a jumper from the left side of the court (hit 55% of his two-point field goals), he struggled from long range hitting only one of six attempts from trifecta land.
On this day, Tiu wasn’t the only one to come alive. Ken Barracoso, a former Juniors Most Valuable Player, finally had his breakout game by scoring 12 points including a huge three-pointer that gave Ateneo its final taste of the lead as well as hauling down six rebounds and dishing for three assists.
Warriors to the rescue
The game plan was to shut down Mark Borboran and limit Marcy Arellano’s production. While Borboran doesn’t put up spectacular numbers (he averages around eight points and eight caroms every outing), it’s his presence that creates match-up problems. Arellano torched NU for 21 points in their previous outing but against Ateneo, he was limited to seven points and three assists. Their vaunted trapping defense caused problems early on, but the Blue Eagles’ passing forced Kelvin Gregorio and the high-leaping Elmer Espiritu to the bench early on.
But playing the fireman’s role was guard Paul Lee and forward Hans Thiele who scored 13 and 10 points respectively. And for the first time, Ateneo got clobbered off the boards. The team averages 58.5 rebounds a game and the Warriors held them to 40 (as opposed to the 42 they grabbed). While the difference may not seem much, it should be noted that 20 of those were off the offensive glass. While Ateneo shot better from all departments (35.7% to UE’s 16.7% from three-point range, an even 50% from two-point area, and 60.9% to 58.8 from the stripe), it was these second servings that stopped the team cold.
Ateneo also averaged 17.5 turnovers in their first two games, but in this outing, the Blue Eagles coughed up the ball 19 times including the final two of Tiu and Eman Monfort that UE took advantage of.
In the game’s aftermath, the coaching staff stressed that the streak while it would have been good to keep going isn’t that important. The last couple of years saw Ateneo put together a long win streak before flaming out when it mattered the most. The important thing is to correct the mistakes while the season is young and use that as momentum towards the Final Four and hopefully beyond. The silver lining in this defeat was that Chris Tiu and Ken Barracoso have gotten their offense going. And for Ford Arao who is averaging 17 points a game (while shooting an impressive 60% from the field) on top of 9.6 rebounds to pace the team, he’s shown what he could do against top-flight competition. Even the sports scribes agree so.
As the Ateneo crowd sang the alma mater, Bong Ravena eyed the Blue Eagles and looked at the pained look on some of the players’ faces. “I wouldn’t underestimate them (the Blue Eagles),” said the former pro. “You don’t learn much from a win. But with a loss like this, you know Ateneo will be ready next time.” He then went to pat Ford Arao’s back for a job well done.
UP Maroons team manager Bombit Silva shook his head after the match. “Not a good day for the teams from Katipunan,” he said also referring to UP’s third straight setback (the Maroons lost to NU earlier in the afternoon). “It was the Gastambide teams’ day today. But it’s still early.”