MANILA, Philippines - The Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles exacted revenge on the Adamson Falcons with a 73-67 win to close out the elimination round and bag the second seed and the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
This match was won on pure grit. They fell behind, weathered runs by Adamson, bucked injuries to two players (three if you count team captain GBoy Babilonia, who has missed the last three matches) in Vince Tolentino and Adrian Wong, who both went out of the match in the second half and didn’t return.
Ateneo could have folded right there more so after center Chibueze Ikeh fouled out. Only they didn’t. They found their strength in the games of Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, and Mike Nieto.
Once Ateneo led in the fourth period, they didn’t let go.
Despite struggling with their shooting, what was impressive was for the most part was their maintaining discipline. They didn’t turn over the ball much finishing with only 10 turnovers that Adamson parlayed into 14 points. The Blue Eagles answered by scoring 15 points off Adamson errors. Plus, they finished with 12 assists to the Falcons’ 7; crucial in this share the ball offense of Ateneo.
The return of the halftime adjustment and the finishing kick
During the Norman Black years, Ateneo was good in halftime adjustment and having the finishing kick. This season, it’s back.
When behind at the half, Ateneo is at 2-1, with a win versus UE in the first round and against Adamson in the second round. The solitary loss came in the first round at the hands of La Salle.
When leading at the half, Ateneo is 7-0.
The Blue Eagles outscored the opponent in the second half four times in the first round with three of them resulting in wins.
Come the second round, Ateneo outscored the opposition four times more in the second half. All of them for wins.
During the first round, Thirdy Ravena averaged 11.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. By the end of the elimination rounds, his scoring is down at 9.9 points but his rebounds and assists have picked up with 7.8 and 2.3 respectively.
Thirdy averaged 2.2 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 0.14 assists in the fourth period during the first round. After two rounds of play, he normed 3.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.1 assists.
Like his pop and older brother, Kiefer, he is finding ways to and lead his team to victory.
While the Blue Eagles do not run away from their offense that sees them pass the ball around and work for a really good shot, I noticed how the ball has found its way to Ravena to create or attack in the clutch.
That has me thinking. When Tab Baldwin first began working with Philippine teams, he came over as a disciple of the Triangle Offense. He adopted the Dribble Drive Offense while working with the national team.
The situation reminds of the time when Phil Jackson was running the Triangle Offense with the Chicago Bulls and later, the Los Angeles Lakers – they’d run the system but when it breaks down, the ball would go to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant respectively for points or to create.
Thirdy and Isaac Go are a far cry from Kobe and Shaq but who knows? They are getting better as a duo.
The gang mentality
While the ball finds its way to Ravena, Aaron Black, and Adrian Wong when they need to score, the “team” concept is ever so real.
The Blue Eagles are the only team in the league with NO player averaging double digit scoring! Yep! NO ONE is averaging in double digits in scoring and rebounding. They are the only team with no one player in the column for stat leaders.
And in what I mentioned during the win over FEU in the second round, the Blue Eagles are the only team with four players grabbing at least five rebounds a game -- Ravena (7.8), Mike Nieto (5.5), Chibueze Ikeh (5.4), and Vince Tolentino (5.0). Isaac Go and GBoy Babilonia are a shade under that mark.
To further underscore the gang mentality is Ateneo is the league leader in bench scoring with 38.6 points per game (the starters pour in only 33.6 points which is dead last in the UAAP).
Ratcheting up the defense
For much of the first eight matches, the Blue Eagles hovered around the middle of the defensive standings. After two rounds, they are ranked second behind FEU. Ironically, La Salle at 13-1 is fourth.
Nevertheless, the team has become better defensively despite its woes at center. Ateneo tops some defensive categories such as the best in shot blocks (4.6), total field goals allowed (34.7%), 2-point field goals allowed (38.8%), 3-point field goals allowed (23.4%), assists allowed (11.1), and bench points allowed (22.9).
During Adamson’s four-match win streak, they were averaging over 60 field goal attempts; several attempts better than the first round where they were taking about 54 shots from the field. In this game, Ateneo allowed them only 58 shots.
And that helped Ateneo get back to the Final Four.