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.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ateneo Blue Eagles UAAP Finals Game 1: Homeground

Ateneo 72 vs. FEU 49
by rick olivares
pic by brosi

in the days that preceded Game 1 of the UAAP Men’s Basketball Finals, the words “hunger” and “redemption” were bandied about the media and blogosphere as reasons why the Far Eastern University Tamaraws would soon be crowned as champs. Why not? After all, they have the league’s best record. The newly minted MVP. The deepest team in the league composed of seasoned veterans and amazing rookies as well as the backing of a boisterous crowd that grows louder with every victory. They’ve been horribly waylaid in the past two seasons giving them extra motivation to win it all. And this season, they’ve beaten longtime nemesis Ateneo twice during the eliminations and in the clutch that was hitherto the Blue Eagles’ domain.


Unfortunately, they ran into a hungry and ravenous Blue Eagle team that wants to consume every championship in sight. They played an Ateneo team that read every pre-season and pre-finals prediction that they were has-beens.

All season long, they checked off the list one goal after another – making the Final Four, securing the twice-to-beat advantage, making the Finals, and lastly, bagging that title. Never mind the meltdowns, the unexpected loss here and there, injuries one after the other, and the defense that isn’t as impenetrable as it once was.

And because of that, even if they squeaked past Adamson twice in the eliminations, many said that the Falcons would finally breakthrough in the Final Four. Instead, they got a severe beating and it wasn’t close.

And because of their two losses to FEU, many said that the mental burden of having tried to beat the top-seed was a little too much to overcome so the finals was a mere formality for the Tamaraws’ eventual coronation.

The title. The boys in blue really don’t talk about the previous two titles. They take off from their coach who puts the past in the past while living for today and tomorrow. They talk about winning this particular title and even if they’ve been here before, it’s still like the first time – they’re happy to be here but with a sense of purpose. “The finals,” said senior forward Kirk Long, “is our homeground.

By the opening tip, you bet redemption was also on Ateneo’s mind.

In the days before Game One, Jason Escueta, suspended for a second flagrant foul, continued to practice with the team. With the forward-center out, JP Erram moved one notch up the rotation. And to prepare him, Escueta guarded and banged him to simulate the type of game that FEU Tamaraw forward-center Reil Cervantes likes to play in the post up. “He’ll be ready,” was Escueta’s stamp of approval on his teammate who saw himself starting to coming off the bench to burning a hole at the very end of the bench.

Both Ateneo and FEU’s practices were intense leading up to game day. But leave it to Ryan Buenafe to get a word in before tip off: “Makakatikim ‘tong team na taga-Morayta.”

Buenafe’s words weren’t about rough play. But if the Tamaraws dished it out, Ateneo was prepared to give it back. Emman Monfort made sure to send the message out but more on that later.

And from the opening tip, it was obvious that on offense, Ateneo was going to take it right to the heart of FEU’s tall fir trees and run when the opportunity presents itself. But the one way to beat the Tamaraws was to control the board and prevent their perimeter players from making outside shots.

Following Cameroonian Pipo Noundou’s jumper that gave FEU six points to Ateneo’s nine, the Blue Eagles tightened the screws as Eric Salamat hounded counterpart Jens Knuttel into a turnover as the ball bounced off his foot. With four minutes left in the first quarter, JP Erram entered the fray and immediately blocked two shots -- one from Paul Sanga and another from Mark Bringas. With the three defensive stops, Ateneo shifted to a higher gear and dropped a crippling 15-0 bomb to put the top seed in a deep hole right in the first frame. The score was 26-8 after the first ten minutes and many were rubbing their eyes if this was an NFL rout rather than UAAP Finals match.

A few days before Game 1, the coaches had dinner with team patron Manuel V. Pangilinan who opined that the team seemed to have a problem protecting leads. It was imperative that the team kept its focus and should they spot a lead, to build on it rather than hold the line. Going into the game, the team was aware of their shortcomings and promised to maintain their focus all throughout.

At the start of the second quarter, Cervantes and league MVP Ryan Garcia got their offense going as they combined for nine points. Only Ateneo’s offense was doing much better. They hiked the lead to 21 at the half 42-21.

One can debate whether championship experience is a factor. But you don’t have to look far to debunk that. In 2006, both Ateneo and UST didn’t really have much experience heading into the championship. And in 2008, despite the Blue Eagles being 14-1 entering the Finals versus La Salle, experience still wasn’t a factor as the Green Archers were the defending champions.

It boils down to desire, hunger, and serious business. As for the Tamaraws, they were mad dunking in the round robin thinking that they had the game in hand. And they still thought it was a show as their Pep Squad performed their awesome routine from the recently concluded Cheerdance Competition.

For the Blue Eagles and the Blue Babble Battalion, it was all business as they continued with their systematic demolition of the highly touted Tamaraws who look flustered as their halftime adjustments failed to crack Ateneo’s resolve. Continuing the American Football analogy, they had that look of a dazed and confused quarterback that repeatedly got blitzed from all sides. Ten of the 12 Blue Eagles sent in by Black scored. Even when the bench came in, they not only held the fort but put some heat themselves on the Tamaraws. 

When Monfort got elbowed, he gave it back and then some. Stick to basketball if you know what's good for you.

Raymond Austria, playing his finest game this season, scored eight points to lead the second unit. Tonino Gonzaga, sparingly used this season, came in and with no let up.

With the bench producing, Ateneo’s lead went up as high as 25 midway through the final quarter following an Emman Monfort lay-up. There was no let up as the Blue Eagles ended up with a devastating win that put them one game closer to the title.

The Blue Eagles had beaten them in almost every statistical category: 46-40 in rebounds, 18-9 in assists, 5-3 in steals, 6-3 in blocks, 15-0 in fastbreak points, 16-7 in turnover points, 42-22 points in the paint, 18-16 perimeter points, 40-37 starter points, and 32-12 in bench points.

The Tamaraws only led in second chance points 8-6, had 63 field goal attempts to Ateneo’s 61, and had 19 free throw attempts to the blue and white’s 17.

“We were completely outplayed.” said FEU Athletic Director Mark Molina in the post-game interview. “I tip my hat off to Ateneo. I think we were caught up too much in the atmosphere of playing in the finals. Para silang (the Tamaraws) deer stuck in the headlights.”

As happy as the Ateneans were with the win, they are well aware that FEU will be back with fire in their eyes come Game 2. “For sure they’ll be back,” said Long. “We have to play to a higher level if we want to win this.”

Added Black, “It takes two games to win a UAAP title. We have to continue what we’re doing. We’ll have the same preparation. We’ll have to figure out what they’re trying to do and how to win it. We did not get many individual awards this year, did we? The players are really concentrated on just winning the championship.”

Now in case you were not paying any attention that sounds like a very hungry team.

Ateneo 72Long 14, Chua 13, Salva 10, Monfort 9, Austria 8, Salamat 8, Erram 4, Gonzaga 2, Golla 2, Buenafe 2, Tiongson 0, dela Cruz 0

FEU 49Garcia 11, Romeo 10, Cervantes 7, Noundou 6, Ramos 6, Cawaling 3, Exciminiano 2, Cruz 2, Bringas 2, Guerrero 0, Mendoza 0, Knuttel 0, Sanga 0

Notes: The FEU Tamaraws stayed inside their dugout for two hours after the game. Said skipper Jens Knuttel, "Papatunayan namin na hindi kami bading."  The San Sebastian Staglet's Gino Jumao-as watched Game 1. Are you headed for Katipunan? The photo taken by Brosi that I used above says volumes about the game. If he could name it, said Brosi, it's DEFEND THE CROWN

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