by rick olivares
In the Bo Derek context, a “10” would mean perfection. If you don’t know who Bo Derek is Google the name.
And as much as the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles won their tenth game in ten attempts this UAAP season, it was far from perfect.
Ateneo went through some anxious moments before pulling out a 74-70 win over the Red Warriors who had finally found their groove. Two threes in the final 39 seconds gave the Red Warriors life. And it took two clutch free throws by Emman Monfort to douse the upset fires.
The Red Warriors ended the first round by beating National University then incredibly dropping skidding La Salle two matches later. They had done the same last year and even dealt Ateneo a stinging second round 62-60 loss.
This year’s cast from Recto might have been bereft of the familiar faces but the spunk remains the same. They were last in almost every category but the two statistics they could be proud of is that they were tops in bench scoring with 39.0 points per game and they were the third best rebounding team in the league with 44.9.
“We’re playing without pressure,” explained first year head coach Jerry Codinera. “At first we were desperate to win a game but now we are dong out best to show that we are no pushovers.”
The Blue Eagles coaching staff closely watched UE’s win over DLSU and noted how the zone had given the Green Archers some trouble. Expecting the same, the coaching staff saw it fit to dump the ball inside to the Big Fella who finished the game with 19 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 shot blocks.
“It’s a luxury to have that advantage,” noted Codinera of the presence of Slaughter. Of course, UE’s coach is no stranger to such a luxury. He was a towering presence for UE leading them to four finals in his college stint.
But across the court, was the son of a former Red Warrior (Bong Ravena served a one-year residency during Codinera’s last year) in Kiefer Ravena. “Ibang klaseng one-two combination yan,” he marveled.
Codinera knows all too well what that means because he formed a deadly partnership with Allan Caidic during his time in red and white. Caidic was not simply a shooter. He could actually post up his man and when the occasion called for it, dunk the ball.
The UE coaching staff knew that if they were to have a chance, they had to draw Slaughter out of the lane. Codinera had Erwin Duran and JM Noble practice their outside shots in the days before the game. If that happened then Adrian Santos and Biboy Enguio could drive inside and fish for fouls.
And early on, the script worked to perfection as the two shot the daylights out of the Araneta Coliseum (8-15 shooting) from different angles that it seemed that Paul Lee was back in the building.
They even led by four points 37-33 at the end of the first half.
It was Ateneo’s turn to adjust. They have been the best at tweaking their game plan as they have scored over 40 points in the second half, the best in the league. But if they were to pull a victory, they had to challenge the outside shot and to tighten up on their defense.
They began the third quarter with three steals that was translated into two layups and a pull up jumper. In 67 seconds, Ateneo had seized the lead 39-37 forcing Codinera to call for time.
But the Blue Eagles would not relinquish the lead.
And like they did against the Growling Tigers five days earlier, all 10 Ateneans sent into the game contributed something to the overall effort. Ateneo topped every statistical category except for the turnover points in which UE bettered the blue and white 18-14; three of those points coming over an errant forward pass by Slaughter to Ravena when pressed by UE in the dying seconds of the game.
After the match, Black said that one of the team’s biggest challenges was complacency. While everyone was focused on the objectives, keeping that focus was tough. It’s as if everyone is waiting for the final four to start.
“We expected a tough game,” said Black. “It’s not by any chance a pretty one and UE seems to have found their groove. But we got the win and now we focus on the next one.”
Yet somehow the team remains perfect in imperfection.