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  1. Grey Matters

    We used to call them zebras, because they used to wear shirts with bold black stripes.

    Now however it seems there is an explosion of colors in referee fashion. In some games they wear a bright yellow, reminiscent of emergency signals.

    In some tournaments they wear orange, like life savers and lifeguards sometime do.

    For the most part however, the modern basketball referee wears grey. Even in the ongoing UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament, it has been their uniform color of choice.

    For those of you who've watched the post-season of Season 80 you already know where this is going.

    It all began with the Final 4 match between reigning champion De La Salle and Adamson. That was a game won handily by the Green Archers 82-75, coming back from as many as 15 points.

    And that is where things start to get interesting.

    Franz Pumaren, head coach of the Soaring Falcons and a UAAP veteran, called it "the worst officiating" he had ever experienced in a few interviews after that game.

    Considering there was a free throw disparity of 39-5 in favor of La Salle, it seems Pumaren wasn't merely going all sour grapes or whining. Let me repeat that: 39-5.

    Now La Salle is a strong team, the reigning champion, and the consensus Number 1 seed going into this year's tournament. Surely they - of all teams - wouldn't need any help from the referees just to win a game. Right?

    That sort of misses the point. The actual point is that glaring disparity in free throws. It was so glaring that even people who had nothing to do with either side took notice and had opinions about it.

    "For the first time in three years, it was a first that aside from the losing team which you expect the complaint from, there are some sectors who checked what happened. So of course, I cannot be insensitive to the public cause at the end of the day, they are the audience. We have to address the outcry," said Commissioner and Executive Director Rebo Saguisag.

    Saguisag, a lawyer, and son of former Senator Rene Saguisag, also suspended all three referees who worked this game. At least two of these referees were already singled out in previous controversies. That they were even calling a critical playoff game is beyond me.

    Hardly had the sound and fury of this game died down when suddenly Game 1 of the Finals rolled around, and was done.

    Both the league and ABS CBN had its dream match, with the Ateneo De Manila disposing of Far Eastern in their knockout Final 4 game in overtime to set up the title series with La Salle.

    Leaning on the clutch baskets of center George Go in the last few seconds, the Blue Eagles went on to take Game 1 76-70.

    Once again however, the referees were in the thick of the conversation.

    Videos circulating all over the Internet, especially social media, showed at least four specific instances when La Salle players had committed clear violations while the referees inexplicably did not blow their whistles.

    1. Ricci Rivero low-blowed Vince Tolentino after Tolentino had taken a free throw, with a closed fist.

    2. Benoit Mbala hit a driving Thirdy Ravena in the face, with a closed fist. This time with Referee Number 59 right there at the baseline with a clear view of this bit of action.

    3. Abu Tratter punched Raffy Verano in the side as Verano hit the deck to try and go after a loose ball.

    4. Benoit Mbala, on a cut, snapped an elbow into Tolentino's chin as the latter went to cover the former.

    5. Prince Rivero also had a closed fist throughout his attempts to get rebounds and box out.

    It is one thing to try to get an advantage through tough / clever play, "kung ayaw mo masaktan, mag-chess ka na lang," as my good friend Wang-bu always says.

    It is however quite another thing for an entire team to make it part and parcel of strategy and tactics to go out and deliberately hurt the opponents.

    This might be an opportune time to remind the league that closed fists are such a huge no-no in this game that just brandishing them (such in a "fighting stance" as the FIBA rules say) could get a guy tossed from a game and even suspended.

    "I'll do whatever it takes to win. But I won't go out there and deliberately injure a fellow player," explained former UP star Jett Manuel in one interview.

    You'd think after the Ateneo had been given 29 free throws in the first half of this game that La Salle would tone it down, but no, the Green Archers just kept going.

    "I've never in 35 years had a consultation with a referee at halftime. I thought it was reduntant. They were just saying what is obviously happening and what will obviously continue to happen," said Tab Baldwin, ...
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  2. Ateneo-Lasalle Finals Looms (Season 80 Edition)

    And just like that the flagship UAAP Season 80 men's basketball senior division tournament is about to come to a close.

    After 112 elimination games spread over two rounds, it looks like the consensus Top 2 teams really are going to have rematch in the Finals.

    ABS CBN and the League itself could not have planned it much better.

    Reigning champion De La Salle is just waiting for arch rival Ateneo De Manila to dispose of stubborn Far Eastern as of this writing, and the two best teams of the tournament will have another blockbuster showdown to cap off the 80th season of the most popular collegiate caging tournament in the country.

    Ateneo could have been first into the Finals, except that La Salle beat them in the last game of the eliminations 79-76, preventing a regular season sweep by the Blue Eagles and the automatic Finals berth that went with it. It was a reversal of sorts, as the Ateneo had prevented La Salle from sweeping last season on the last game day as well.

    La Salle already booked their return trip to the Big Dance with a controversial 82-75 decision over third-seed Adamson University. The Green Archers came back from as much as 15 points down to pull the rug out from under the Soaring Falcons in their Final 4 match.

    This game however came with quite a lot of baggage, and has (as of this writing) become subject of an official protest from Adamson. The heart of the matter: La Salle was awarded 39 free throws while Adamson only got five. Yes sir, that is no typo, the free throw difference was 39-5 in favor of the Green Archers.

    The League responded to the Adamson protest by immediately suspending the three referees that worked this game, "with two strongly recommended for being banned for the rest of the season," in their response to Adamson. "If only to preserve public confidence in our league," the response further stated.

    Adamson head coach Franz Pumaren repeatedly said this was the "worst officiating" he had ever seen, and it seems the free throw statistics support him, Ironically, Pumaren was once head coach of La Salle and even led the team to a 4-Peat from 1998 to 2001.

    What other steps the league will take on this matter however remains to be seen. It is very rare that a re-play of a crucial playoff game is held, for whatever reason. In my rusty memory banks I think the last tiem a crucial game was re-played was between FEU and National University, during the heyday of the Terrence Romeo-Ray Parks shootouts, and the details now elude me. Perhaps someone can clarify the details (or even my memory of this) in the comments section.

    A similar controversy erupted sometime in 2014, during the Round 1 Ateneo-UE game, when the Ateneo got a 40-24 advantage in free throws - with league darling Kiefer Ravena getting 25 free throws just for himself - and the Blue Eagles going on to overhaul a big UE lead to win that game in overtime. Ravena had a career 38 points in that game.

    The Ateneo for its part succumbed to the Tamaraws last November 19th 80-67. FEU led by as many as 18 at one point, led by veteran Ron Dennison and former Blue Eagles, forward Arvin Tolentino and guard Hubert Cani.

    "We haven't done anything yet. We just took away their twice-to-beat advantage," said FEU head coach Olsen Racela, himself a former Blue Eagle and part of the 1988 Ateneo title team.

    Their knockout Final 4 game is set for tomorrow, November 22.

    This is another deja vu situation, as the Tamaraws and Blue Eagles also went the distance in last season's Final 4, with the Ateneo eventually making it to the Big Dance.

    FEU held the Ateneo to a little over 36% shooting from the field, including a nightmarish 3/17 from three-point range in the second half. "We just shot abysmally, and I can't even tell you how or why," said Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin after the game.

    FEU for its part shot nearly 50% from the field and even got the lucky ones, like a 28-foot buzzer beater by Cani in the third period.

    As the Season 80 Host School, Racela and the rest of the Tamaraws are hoping to make a different outcome in the KO match tomorrow.

    Still, no one is betting against a rematch between the Blues and Greens.

    Because seriously, can there be a bigger blockbuster in present day Philippine basketball than friggin' Ateneo-La Salle?

    Who will take the title?

    Smart money says the Green Archers get their back-to-back championship.
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