Emotional Rescue - UAAP Game 1 Ateneo 69 vs Adamson 63
Round One UAAP Season 70
by Rick Olivares
July 8, 2007
An unlikely duel
Patrick Cabahug glided out of the Adamson locker like a shark. His predator eyes ablaze with excitement and intensity. There was a silent fury to his disposition that was in stark contrast to his teammates who joked and laughed. Perhaps it was to mask the first game jitters that seem to come at this time of the year.
Cabahug has not forgotten the three stinging down-to-the-last-shot losses to Ateneo in Season 69. He still maintains that Ateneo didn’t win them and that Adamson lost them. And today… today was time for retribution. Even if they were without the pro-bound Ken Bono and the graduated Mark Agustin.
The nephew of former pro player Elmer Cabahug is every inch a hotshot sniper himself. And he looked forward to an artillery duel with his Ateneo counterpart Chris Tiu.
Except that with the Blue Eagles’ co-captain misfired almost all game long. It was the six foot four Claiford Arao, in his final year in blue and white, to get locked in when the Ateneo sorely needed a go-to player.
Ford Arao has that easy going smile and hearty laugh that will make a person believe that everything will be all right. Even with the Blue Eagles laying a big fat egg at 12-0 with three minutes and thirty seconds gone by in the opening quarter.
Arao and Jai Reyes checked into the game for the ineffective Nonoy Baclao and Eman Monfort. And right off the bat, the two conspired for the point-starved Blue Eagles that gave the Ateneo gallery something to cheer about.
A grim reminder
William “Bogs” Adornado is the Falcons’ first year coach, but he isn’t exactly unfamiliar with his squad having served as an assistant to Leo Austria last year. Even after the Falcons were eliminated in last year’s Final Four, Adornado intensely watched the titanic championship series between the Ateneo, where he also served as an assistant coach during the Joel Banal years, and his alma mater, the University of Santo Tomas.
He noted that one advantage the Tigers had was that their guards and swingmen didn’t need screens to get their shots off. They were talented enough to create their own shot --- something Jojo Duncil did very well against Ateneo.
Adornado knew that he possessed the same kind of player in Cabahug who lived for big games. Cabahug could knock down the trifecta or post up for turn-around jay. And if his guard wasn’t squared for the drive, he would take it to the lane for the stretch or a drop pass to the forwards if someone foolishly rotated. And, thought Adornado to himself, if Roel Hugnatan could wreak havoc down low, it would open up the floor for Leo Canuday, Paul Gonzalgo. And plodding center Junard Yambot.
After six minutes of play, the rookie coach’s game plan was clicking with all five Adamson starters having scored. They had Ateneo on their heels with the score at 18-4. He hoped his team could continue their torrid scoring pace.
A big lift
Blue Eagles’ coach Norman Black shuffled his men to match up against Adamson’s man-zone defense. Digging deep into his bench, Black went with Reyes and Eric Salamat in the backcourt and Zion Laterre, Mike Baldos, and Rabah Al-Husseini up front.
And soon enough, Ateneo settled down. In danger of not even putting double-digits on the board, the Ateneans began to run their offense. “Make sure you get two when you come back down,” barked the third year American mentor to his guards. Reyes nodded and the team finished at a more respectable 22-11 at the end of the first canto.
Baldos’ activeness in the pit gave the physical Hugnatan fits as he coerced the rough-playing forward into his second and third fouls. With the Falcons‘ power forward playing Matador defense, Black sent Jobe Nkemakolam in. It was time to get their inside game going.
The rejuvenated Fil-Nigerian was a revelation in the pre-season as he posted sterling numbers in the Fil Oil tournament. And with his confidence growing with every game, Nkemakolam, thrilled at finally being able to play in Team A after being benched in his rookie year, scored four quick points to breathe life into the quiet Ateneo gallery.
With the Eagles breathing down the Falcons’ necks, the rally was somewhat stymied when they failed to convert off a pair of steals that had Black’s eyes bulging. “I need a lay up and two points,” said Black after a botched breakaway lay-up by Salamat who was fishing for a foul from Falcons point guard Lester Alvarez. “I do not need something special.” But even so, Ateneo was beginning to assert themselves. They finished the half down by five 25-30 in favor of Adamson.
A familiar scenario
“They have to make their run now,” muttered long-time Ateneo Sports Shooter Aaron Vicencio who was at the baseline of the Blue Eagles’ side of the court taking photos. With Arao and Nkemakolam (eight points and two rebounds) taking it strong to the rack, Ateneo finally stormed ahead 43-37 at the end of the third quarter.
Before it looked like they blow the Falcons off the court after racing to an 11-point lead, the lid suddenly closed on the Eagles’ basket and the turnovers began to pile up once more (the Blue Eagles had 15 as compared to Adamson’s 20). Then once more, it was Patrick Cabahug time again.
With Zion Laterre (three points, four ribbies, three assists, and one block) fronting him, Cabahug dribbled from left to right then arced himself backwards for a deadeye trey that saw Adamson wrest the lead from the Ateneo 51-48 with time down to 58.7 left in the game clock.
In previous years, Ateneo might have crumbled under the pressure but since last year, the team has displayed steel nerves when it counted the most. And just like that, they retook the lead, courtesy of a three-point play by Al-Husseini (five points, three caroms, one dime, and a block) and a pair of free throws by Chris Tiu (nine points and nine boards) for a 53-51 advantage. With time down to four seconds, Cabahug took the inbounds pass from Leo Canuday, spun around Laterre, and hit a floating leaner to send the game into the season’s second overtime.
A new day rising
Maybe you’ve heard that joke where Ford Arao jumps no higher than a telephone directory. Maybe you’ve heard that joke where when he gets rid of the ball in the post, he will find the opponent for an assist.
But maybe now, people would like to know if Arao has finally lived up to his potential after being highly recruited out of San Beda high. “What in the world did Arao eat his morning,” wondered an Ateneo supporter from the ringside seats. “I hope he’s got a huge supply of it.”
There would be no buzzer-beating shots today. Adamson had their chance and Ford Arao refused them second servings. In overtime, the fifth year player scored 10 of Ateneo’s 16 points and stole the ball from a driving Cabahug who was clearly tuckered out. Arao would also haul down 15 rebounds including four off the offensive glass. Plus he had only one turnover.
As the blue faithful sang the alma mater with gusto and relief, Arao’s teammates slapped high fives with him for a job well done. He looked sheepish because of the extra attention yet he still flashed that easy grin and toothy smile. “Thanks,” was all he mumbled.
By the Adamson locker room, Patrick Cabahug was devastated. He scored a game high 28 points and pulled down 11 boards in 37 minutes of action. He wore a pained look on his face. It was only the first game of the season, but it seemed like it was yesterday once more.
“I made a mistake,” said Bogs Adornado outside the team’s locker room. “My boys were tired. I should have given the starters a rest and let the bench play. Lessons learned ‘yan.” Assistant coach Jing Ruiz, who was a star for Letran in the late 1980’s, was quick to erase any doubts on his team’s morale. “We believe we can beat Ateneo,” he offered his voice trailing off. “We just have to go out and do it.”