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In Your Face!

Let's talk balls.

  1. Lookie What We Got Here (What A Shocker)

    99-81.

    Lets just get that out of the way.

    No, it wasn't even close.

    Game 2 ended pretty much the way even the books thought it would: with an unstoppable Blue and White juggernaut running right through the Maroon and Teal.

    Now the Ateneo De Manila is once again back-to-back champions, their third such feat in the UAAP.

    The first time the Ateneo did it, the father of twins Matt and Mike Nieto, Jet, was still playing for the Blue Eagles, some 30 years ago. Jet is now a doctor, and has two other children, a daughter and another son. Jet's team was primarily homegrown, with the likes of Danny Francisco, Alex Araneta, and Jun Reyes, all coming from the Ateneo Grade School.

    The second time was during the Rabeh Al-Hussaini - Nonoy Baclao era, about a decade prior to this latest diadem. This was the time the Ateneo went into high gear with its recruitment, and began an historic 5-peat reign anchored mainly on players who came from outside Loyola Heights. Al-Hussaini, the 2008 MVP, came out of Philippine Christian University High School, while Baclao was a transfer student from West Negros University.

    This time it seemed the circle was completed, with homegrown talents leading the way along with arguably the best import to ever play in the UAAP. Thirdy Ravena and Angelo Kouame combined for 60 points in Game 2. That is not a typo. Read it again. 60. Points. Ravena had 38 points including five three-pointers, while Kouame had 22 points and 20 rebounds to make up for his lackluster showing in Game 1.

    "I'm just so proud of these guys, like I keep saying, we had a job to do and we did it," said Coach Tab Baldwin in one interview after they had completed the title run.

    It said in this space that Kouame would have a bounce-back game, and boy did he ever. By our count he had five dunks.

    Juan Gomez De Liano, MVP Bright Akhuetie, and graduating Paul Desiderio all tried to keep University of the Philippines in this fight, but clearly they were totally out-everything in Game 2.

    How many instances was an Ateneo shooter left wide open, with the closest UP defender some two meters away?

    How many times did Ateneo run that screen-hand off action at the perimeter to bamboozle the UP perimeter defense?

    How many times did a weakside cut or a pick-roll result in an open layup for a Blue Eagle?

    How many times was Akhuetie so incensed with the UP defense that he was yelling at teammates and wondering what the hell hit them?

    And then Ravena just went ballistic, scoring 17 in the first half then topping it off with 21 in the second. His fourth three-pointer made it a 21-point lead with about four minutes to go. The Ateneo was up by as much as 22 and was never really threatened throughout this game.

    "We did not want a Game 3, not against this team," Ravena said in a post-game interview. "We knew what we had to do. This is for the Ateneo Community. Hats off to the UP Community as well," he added.

    Now that the latest back-to-back title is all wrapped up, preparations for Season 82 officially begin.

    For Ravena though, that meant getting back to normal student life, including a group study session he had to skip in preparation for Game 1, the subject of much ribbing from his classmates.

    That goes for all of the other players who saw action in these Finals.

    And that perhaps should be the biggest takeaway: this was perhaps the first time ever that bona fide student athletes faced each other in the UAAP Finals.

    Updated 12-07-2018 at 01:47 PM by Sam Miguel

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  2. Lookie What We Got Here (Again)

    88-79.

    Just like that Game 1 of the UAAP Season 81 Finals was over, and when the smoke cleared it was the reigning champion Ateneo De Manila standing victorious. Now the Blue Eagles get a chance to win their second back-to-back championship in a decade, and their third such time in their UAAP history.

    For its part, upstart University of the Philippines came quickly back down to earth after going through a must-win against ousted De La Salle to end the eliminations, and then going through a wringer against Adamson University in the Final 4. Adamson had a twice to beat advantage and UP just flat out went out and beat them twice. Both UP Final 4 wins came on game-winning shots, in Game 1 from import Bright Akhuetie, and the second from team captain Paul Desiderio.

    There was certainly a lot of hype going into these Finals, since this is the first time the neighbors along Katipunan (is it an Avenue or a Road...?) would be squaring off for the flagship Men's Senior Basketball Title.

    Game 1 lived up to all the buzz.

    With the Ateneo racing to an early 17-7 lead, it looked like this would be another walk in the park for the reigning champions. They did after all sweep their season series versus the Fighting Maroons by an average of over 12 points per game.

    UP however fought back, fueled by the Maroon Gallery that made up most of the SM MOA stands. At halftime it was a close 39-38 behind the hot shooting of guard Jun Manzo. Manzo, who averages about five points per game, went on to finish with a career-high 19.

    That was pretty good considering Desiderio only managed six points, although he did complete eight assists.

    UP stuck to its strengths as a team in spite of Desiderio's limited output, nearly getting to their 80-point team average, and also getting plenty of production from their bench.

    For the Ateneo they had to turn to their two veteran stars - Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto. Ravena had a near-triple double with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, while Nieto poured in a career-high 27 points on 4-for-5 shooting from three-point range.

    A (literal) huge missing link for the Blue Eagles was import Angelo Kouame, who only mustered seven points, although he did get 12 rebounds and two blocks.

    Kouame was out of sync all game long, missing a dunk, and then feeling the heat from the UP fans after he collided with Akhuetie, sending the Nigerian off the court on a stretcher. Akhuetie however was able to return with some seven minutes left in the game, although he only finished with 10 points, a far cry from his 18 and 12 averages for his MVP Season.

    Going into Game 2, Ateneo fans can expect Kouame to have a bounce-back game. The 19-year old import from the Ivory Coast clearly took the heckling and jeering he got in his first UAAP Finals game too much to heart in Game 1. Coach Tab Baldwin surely must have had a long conversation with him. "I think he'll be fine for Game 2. This was his first time in a championship," Baldwin said in one interview after Game 1.

    One other thing to think about is that UP may have already thrown their best punches, and they were still unable to knock Ateneo off their perch. "We proved Ateneo is beatable, I think, with just a few tweaks on defense," said Coach Bo Perasol in a post-Game 1 interview. That of course is easier said than done.

    With their perimeter defense exposed by UP's long bombs in Game 1, Baldwin certainly knows he has some tweaking to do himself. "They shot their three pointers about a step behind the line, not at the line or close to it, but farther out. We did not do a good job defending that," Baldwin stated in another interview.

    Juan Gomez De Liano, the 19-year old Mythical 5 member, had 17 points but seemed to struggle versus the Ateneo defense.

    Gomez De Liano, Akhuetie, and Desiderio should all be looking to bounce back strong as well.

    Let us however talk plainly and call this as it is: If Kouame plays his usual game, with just enough support from the rest of his team, they will have their back-to-back title this afternoon, right in time for their Alumni Homecoming this Saturday.

    His coaches and teammates know that Kouame is the key to everything for them, and if he gets going this title should be in the bag for the Ateneo.

    For UP they have to take this one game at a time, starting with Game 2 later, but things are certainly not looking up for them no matter how much they may say so in interviews.

    First they have to replicate their defense on Kouame, then replicate that further to extend to Ravena, something far easier said than done.

    It says here the Ateneo gets its third back-to-back by the end of the day.
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