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In Your Face!

Let's talk balls.

  1. Reclamation, Upset

    "It was over, we are champions, that is all I could think of," said an ecstatic Chibueze Ikeh, the 6-8 center, in the aftermath of the Ateneo De Manila's thriller of a title clincher against arch rival De La Salle 88-86. This is Ikeh's final playing year. He is graduating in a few months.

    After three of the most grueling and emotionally-wrenching games in UAAP Finals history, the Blue Eagles reclaimed a championship they once owned for five straight seasons.

    "I just lay on the floor of the Araneta (Coliseum)," said point guard Matt Nieto after that last heave from La Salle went in. "I knew it was all over and we were champions," he added happily.

    Indeed, this had to be the toughest, and to use that millennial term, epic title series in maybe the last 15 years.

    Last year, the Green Archers were the veteran-laden team bringing in Benoit Mbala, arguably the best player ever to see action in the country's most popular varsity league. Somehow the Blue Eagles managed to get into the Season 79 Finals to square off against La Salle, and expectedly, the Ateneo bowed in a two-game sweep.

    Fast forward to winner-take-all Sunday just a year later, and suddenly the Ateneo looked nothing like the easy pickings they were just a year prior. "We learned there is no substitute for working the hardest you can," remarked Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, the American-New Zealand mentor who preached "playing the right way" right from the get-go.

    Game 1 had its fair share of controversy, as videos from that game continue to make the rounds in social media showing at least four instances where La Salle players were taking cheap shots at their Ateneo counterparts, including at least three instances of closed fist strikes from the La Salle side that should have merited at least a one-game suspension on the errant players. The Ateneo still pulled off the 76-70 victory in this game, with center George Go completing the and-1 clincher.

    Game 2 saw the Blue Eagles go up by as much as 21 points, only to have the Green Archers turn that around and build up as much as a 13-point lead themselves, as they knotted the series at one game apiece with the 92-83 victory.

    Game 3, well, was a classic.

    The Ateneo was up 10 early on, but La Salle stormed right back in the third period, taking a 59-62 lead on a one-hander by forward Abu Tratter.

    But the Ateneo kept its composure and got an 80-70 spread midway through the payoff fourth period.

    La Salle would come to within 82-80 on a three-pointer, with over a minute left.

    Go however would reprise his hero's role, taking the perfect kick-out pass from a driving Thirdy Ravena to nail a clutch three-pointer from his favorite quarter-court spot to give the Ateneo the 85-80 breathing space it needed.

    "The whole team is clutch. I would not have made that shot if it wasn't for the coaches who design our plays, my teammates who were all in their proper spots," said the 6-7 Go, an Applied Chemistry Major now in his senior year in college.

    Nieto and Anton Asistio would nail the insurance free throws to negate the buzzer beating three-pointer from La Salle for the final count.

    This is the Ateneo's ninth senior division basketball diadem, and without a doubt the one they had to work for the hardest.

    Their 1987 and 1988 back-to-back titles, where Nieto's father Jet played, was a tall, tough, talented team.

    Enrico Villanueva, LA Tenorio, Larry Fonacier, Rich Alvarez, and Wesley Gonzales all went on to have very good pro careers, with a couple of them even seeing National Team duty, after they won the 2002 championship.

    Forget the 2008 to 2012 5-Peat dynasty under Norman Black. Those teams were so ridiculously loaded it would have been a crime for them to lose. Yes, even the 2010 team in between the Rabeh Al Hussaini-Nonoy Baclao and Greg Slaughter years.

    This championship was probably the only one among the nine when the Ateneo was the clear underdog in terms of sheer talent.

    I mean, come on, Benoit Mbala was playing for La Salle, and he had swingman Ricci Rivero, point guard sniper Aljun Melecio, 6-5 slam dunk champion power forward Leonard Santillan, and Tratter.

    "Sa totoo lang kung kunwari jak en poy tayo, tapos pipili ka ng players mo, sino ba mas pipiliin mo? Hindi ba talaga namang mas may talent and players ng La Salle lalo na si Mbala," queried Mr Libog over lunch before Game 3.

    "We need to get hot from three-point range, and hope for some foul trouble on Mbala at least, para may laban tayo," he added.

    Mr Libog got his wish.

    Baldwin did a heck of a job accentuating the strengths of the Blue Eagles while doing his best to minimize their negatives, not the least ...
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  2. NU Freego Cup Champ

    National University High School hung tough in an ugly game to annex the Pilipno-Chinese Amateur Basketball League Freego Cup championship versus a hardfighting Lasalle Zobel 58-52.

    Zobel had a fiery start, soing up as much as 21-12 late in the first period behind the eight quarter points of 5'7" superstar guard Aljun Melecio. Melecio got plenty of help from the hustle of chunky 6-foot center Robbie Mariano and 5'9" swingman Brent Paraiso.

    Melecio, Paraiso, and 5'7" guard Marvin Sario made a living off playing the passing lanes and intercepting plays from the NU guards. 5'7" Keith Peralta and 5'7" Daniel Atienza just could not get the ball to their big men down low with the pesky defense of Zobel.

    NU however was able to regain its bearings to turn things around in the second period behind the combined efforts of tournament Mythical 5 member, 6'1" forward John Clemente, and 6-foot backup forward Carl Penano. Clemente and Penano were able to assert their superior size and strength against the overmatched Zobel frontline players especially with Clemente taking it hard to the rack in transition.

    NU took a 32-26 lead going into the lemon time break.

    Second half action proved to be a battle of futility, with both sides finding it hard to make a basket, not so much because of tightened defenses but simply because of errant passing and seemingly sure shots rolling off the rim.

    Melecio at this point had been all but silenced, with the much bigger Clemente shadowing him, and RP Youth Team member, 6'2" forward Rhayyan Amsali helping jam him at the perimeter, preventing him from taking his three-point shots.

    NU however wasn't faring much better at the basket, as their guards just could not get anything going. Clemente had also become frustrated with turnovers piling up and was unable to sustain any scoring momentum he built during the first half.

    Zobel put together a mini-run towards the end of the third period behind 5'10" forward Martin Romero and 5'6" guard Miguel Fortuna to give Zobel back the edge at 41-42.

    In the payoff fourth period the war of attrition continued. It looked like the game would go into extension. But NU somehow found enough of a finishing kick to build a seven point lead 49-42 going into the last three minutes.

    Another stretch of bungled passes and missed baskets ensued until Melecio suddenly nailed a three-pointer to bring Zobel within 52-50.

    Amsali and Penano however hit a couple of insurance points to keep the Junior Archers at bay. Peralta almost gave Zobel a chance to go for overtime with a dribbling error right in front of his coach, Jeff Napa, earning him a tongue lashing. NU held on for the title win though.

    Penano had 10 points for NU while Melecio had 18 for Zobel. Melecio was a woeful 4/14 from three-point range.

    In the game for third place Mapua titally shredded reigning UAAP champion Ateneo 104-79 behind the 30 points of 6'1" Mythical 5 member Sherwin Concepcion.
    Tags: 3, ateneo, la salle, ncaa, uaap Add / Edit Tags
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  3. End of Summer

    With the start of the rainy season according to our weather bureau and the start of classes this week, that brings the summer to an official end. That means in about a month's time the college basketball season will once again commence. But not before the summer basketball tournaments wrap up though. Fr Martin and Fil Oil would have completed their respective quarterfinals by the time most of you read this. No surprises are expected, with the likes of the Ateneo, San Beda, San Sebastian, National University and maybe Far Eastern University and De La Salle somewhere in the mixed bag of teams who will compete for the two summer titles.

    Interestingly enough, the two great rivals - the Ateneo and Lasalle - may yet end up disputing both summer titles. Ateneo was playing Perpetual Help in the Gabby Severino Quarterfinals of the Fr Martin Cup at the sweltering San Beda gym in Mendiola as of this writing. Ateneo will be taking on FEU tomorrow in the Fil Oil at the Arena. Lasalle will take on University of the East in the Fr Martin quarters later this afternoon, while the Green Archers face a much tougher foe in San Sebastian in the Fil Oil quarters tomorrow afternoon. This would be a first in recent summer tournament history and would be a fitting finale for both tournaments.

    As much as that would be ideal for the rabid partisans of both schools, it will also be a boon for tournament organizers. Ateneo-Lasalle championship fights are always a blockbuster. For the record, Lasalle beat the Ateneo for the fifth straight year during their elimination round encounter in the Fil Oil just last weekend 62-59 behind the game-long heroics of prize rookie Jeron Teng. Teng, the 6-foot-2 swingman who set the new Tiong Lian single-game scoring record last season, led the Archers with 17 points, including a high-pressure three-pointer that sent the game into overtime.

    His feats eclipsed the comeback game of star-crossed Blue Eagle swingman Ryan Buenafe. Still overweight, the 6-foot-2 Buenafe, himself a former high school superstar out of San Sebastian, lead the Blue Eagles with 21 points on 62% shooting. Were it not for a last-second play gone awry with Kiefer Ravena, Buenafe might have salvaged this win for the Ateneo. Still, it was a good game for the man who lost a year in the UAAP due to some off-court drama best left to a Law & Order episode.

    San Beda has not escaped the publicity light themselves this summer. At the start of the summer preseason tournaments, the Red Lions were pretty much penciled in as the incoming NCAA champions. After all they did have the formidable duo of 6-foot-8 African import Ola Adeogun and 6-foot-3 Filipino-American swingman Julius "Juice" Armon. Having these two expatriates in the roster all but guaranteed that the Red Lions would be completing their second 3-Peat, a la Chicago Bulls in the Michael Jordan era. Armon however did not return with the team from their annual summer training in the United States. Some reports have it that Armon decided to forego with a college stint and go straight to the PBA D League when he returns to the Philippines.

    Adeogun has not been spared the nagging bite of uncertainty. Some arcane NCAA rule or other supposedly disqualifies an NCAA athlete from competing in his sport if he has been meted a venue ban in any of the other events. So if a basketball player gets into some kind of trouble at say a volleyball event. and that trouble results in him getting banned from watching any of the other NCAA events, that supposedly disqualifies him from participation in basketball or any other NCAA sport. Does that sound like someone we know? This of course is up for definitive clarification in the coming weeks in that oracular assembly known as the NCAA Policy Board. What happens next is anybody's guess. But one might be tempted to ask who, if any, would benefit from Adeogun being unable to play in the NCAA next season? Ask the nine other NCAA teams.

    Even in the face of these manpower developments, the Red Lions are going into the Fil Oil quarterfinals tomorrow an unbeaten team. They have a battle-tested and veteran core who can win it all with or without Adeogun. We will see the Red Lions in the semifinals of this tournament for sure. Check that, we will see them in the Finals. And they may yet arrange a rematch with the Blue Eagles if the Ateneo holds up its end and makes it all the way themselves.

    NU may have something to say about that though, as the Bulldogs have proven that they are a legit powerhouse now. Apart from San Beda they are the only other undefeated team in the Fil Oil. With 6-foot-3 swingman Rey Parks and 6-foot-6 center Emmanuel Mbe leading the way, these Bulldogs surely will take major bites out of anybody they face. They outlasted the Golden Stags in a rough and tumble elimination game here, and pulled the same escape act against the well-coached Adamson ...

 
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