True Grit. True Blue. - UAAP Game 4 Ateneo 66 vs. NU 65
Round One UAAP Season 70
by Rick Olivares
Saturday July 21, 2007
Ninoy Aquino Stadium
Three wins and one loss. That’s not bad when you think that the Blue Eagles’ basketball machine has been somewhat sluggish with the win against UP the only one where the team was firing on all cylinders.
“A win is a win,” sheepishly said Ateneo coach Norman Black after the game. “Obviously this NU team is not the same one as last year. We knew we were in for a tough game, but not this tough. We just gutted out a win"
Amidst the media crush after the Bulldogs dusted off the UP Maroons in the past week, NU coach Manny Dandan celebrated with his team for a few moments then turned his thoughts to his next match-up against Ateneo. “Wala kaming pahinga nito. There will be no easy victories this year. Norman somehow always finds ways to win.”
And this game… the 59th meeting between these two teams in UAAP play, at times resembled a match where the teams tried to outdo each other through turnovers.
Crumbs on the table
The 76-73 setback to the University of the East Red Warriors last Sunday went down to the wire. But one glaring statistic that went against the Blue Eagles was that they were outrebounded on the offensive boards in two of three matches (it was only against a much smaller UP squad where Ateneo ruled in that department). The Warriors grabbed 20 offensive rebounds against our 12. Against a smaller Adamson unit, the Falcons hauled down one more than us 15-14.
With the Bulldogs and their active frontline of Edwin Asoro and Joseph Lingaolingao, it was a 21-8 difference. And at one point, in the first quarter with almost four minutes gone by, we had more turnovers than points (three to zero).
The three missed free throws down the clutch by Nonoy Baclao and a passing error by Eric Salamat – the team’s 19th of the game – kept NU in the thick of things. Fortunately for the blue and white, Bulldogs gunner Jonathan Fernandez turned the ball over that was the ultimate undoing for the Gastambide team. Although NU had fewer turnovers (15), they committed crucial ones and totally misfired in the fourth quarter. Perhaps even more mystifying is that they preferred to bomb away from beyond area code in spite of lording it over the glass. The Bulldogs attempted an incredible 37 three-point shots and made only nine.
It’s not meant to crib Miami Heat coach Pat Riley’s championship slogan, but the Ateneo Blue Eagles are 15 men deep. They may not have a bonafide superstar, but with almost every game, they find new heroes; even ugly ways to win.
In the first game against Adamson, it was Claiford Arao who finally stepped out of being a practice player to become a vital cog in Norman Black’s rotation. Against UP, Rabah Al-Husseini literally stood tall with a solid fourth quarter. During the UE game, it was Chris Tiu and Ken Barracoso who had their breakout games.
Against the Bulldogs, Jai Reyes came off the bench to put some points on the board during the first quarter drought. Tiu, bucking a fever, scored 17 markers to pace the team. Nonoy Baclao earned his wings with timely buckets and stellar defense in the clutch. And then there’s Kirk Long.
The frosh out of Faith Academy showed the promise of greatness to come by hitting a huge trey, grabbing seven boards, and playing solid defense on Jonathan Fernandez. After Bulldog sparkplug Manuel Salvado hit a trifecta over the American for a 22-18 lead for NU halfway through the second quarter, the Blue Eagle guard returned the favor by hitting a three of his own on the other end. Even his near faking of Salvado out of his high-tops was spectacular.
“We got quality minutes out of Kirk Long today,” Black said afterwards when pointing out the bright spots in a rather difficult game. “And we can expect many more.”
With Ford Arao having an off game (four points, six rebounds, and one block in 15 minutes of action), Baclao finally announced his arrival with some timely offensive putbacks early in the fourth quarter in the face of a withering three-point barrage from NU (two by Asoro and one from Fernandez). His three consecutive baskets made it 53-49 for Ateneo. “Dapat lang gumawa na ako,” smiled the rookie forward after the game. “Sana tuloy tuloy na ‘to.”
In the clutch, it was the starters who finished off the Bulldogs as Al-Husseini chipped in five points, Tiu with a deuce, and Eman Monfort with two big free throws.
Logjam at second place
At the end of the weekend’s matches, UE was atop with a 4-0 slate. La Salle’s loss put them at 3-1 good for second place with Ateneo. With the two arch-rivals set to duke it out this coming Thursday, it’s for more than just bragging rights but also to remain within striking distance of the Red Warriors.
“It was a tough win for us,” said a tired but relieved Chris Tiu after the game. “I was struggling with my free throws. I hit some shots and hopefully, I’m out of my slump. But we’re going to have to put in a lot more hard work if we want to make it to the Final Four. Every team is so much more competitive.”
“It’s an ugly win,” said Norman Black to the beat reporters after the game. “But at 3-1, it’s not such a bad place to be.”