Sports Skinning Left, pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
Sportshub ( Leaderboard Top ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

Looking at Ateneo's loss to La Salle

Green Archer Ricci Rivero goes for a jumper against Blue Eagle Matt Nieto in their UAAP game last night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. | Miguel De Guzman

MANILA, Philippines – The De La Salle Green Archers defeated the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 79-76, by blanking the latter in the last 2:25 to ensure a Final Four and deny Ateneo of an outright trip to the finals.

For La Salle, it shows Ateneo that they aren’t as invincible as they think. Two, it reaffirms their belief that they are still the top dogs in the league until taken down. It helps give Kib Montalbo much needed confidence — as if he needed it — heading into the UAAP’s second season. It also does the same for Abu Tratter, who for the most part this season was the forgotten man with Leonard Santillan taking over his starting slot with aplomb.

For Ateneo, there is much to learn.

There are a couple of ways you can look at the loss — one, it does keep you active with no particular extended rest that could result in rust. Two, the streak ended and the pressure of keeping it going has been lifted. Three, you adjust from this loss.

You have to give the Green Archers credit for their defensive stops in the final 2:25 as Ateneo suddenly became uncharacteristically shaky in the crunch time. They also shot themselves in the foot with boneheaded turnovers.

Let’s hold that thought so we can go back at the start.

Sportshub ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

Both teams threw double teams at certain players.

Ateneo threw a double team at Ben Mbala while La Salle had two players on Matt Nieto to give up the ball.

Both strategies worked up to certain points, but Mbala ultimately came out on to as he got the job done on both ends of the court and in the crunch. What a stat line — 28 points, 19 rebounds, 6 steals and 6 blocks (versus 5 turnovers).

La Salle’s press mostly did not work. What worked for them was the unconventional lineup that worked in the second period for a stretch. At one point, La Salle had Ben Mbala, Abu Tratter, and Justine Baltazar on the floor. It worked for a bit as Thirdy Ravena was rather careless in bringing up the ball. Imagine that. He got picked off twice by Mbala. Come on.

I am rather surprised they didn’t expect this. La Salle used that strategy against UP and UE in this second round.

Ateneo adjusted come the third period, killing that tall lineup with Mbala going out for the aggressive show. Isaac Go and a few others scored inside, giving La Salle fits. What they did later on was put Tratter out and hope that his athleticism and wingspan could trouble Ateneo’s shooters while Mbala stayed inside the lane.

In the first period, Santillan led the hit parade, after which he turned it over to Mbala for the second period scoring. Ricci Rivero was shut down in the meantime.

Ateneo got its points from Matt Nieto and Isaac Go but Thirdy, Aaron Black, Anton Asisitio (who hasn’t played well in a while now) and Mike Nieto looked out of focus. Ravena got going in the second half but Mike Nieto never got going. Furthermore, Chibueze Ikeh and Vince Tolentino were in foul trouble.

To be honest, I am kind of surprised that Tyler Tio has not seen one second of action in both Ateneo-La Salle matches. I am not convinced of Jolo Mendoza or Gian Mamuyac’s ball handling skills (they struggle when bringing it up all the way from the backcourt). Just my thought, but Ateneo could use Tyler come the next few games. He just needs to dribble less and make quicker decisions. I understand it is all part of the learning curve this being his first season.

I am sure though there is a reason why he is being held back. Trust the Ateneo coaching staff after all, they’ve done a great job these past two campaigns.

Now there was a stretch where Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin went with Gian Mamuyac, Kris Porter and Jolo Mendoza in the fourth period and they hiked the lead to 66-54. Under withering assault from the defending champs, Ateneo still held firm, although the lead was sliced to six, 71-65, with 5:29 to play.

With 2:25, Ateneo led, 76-69, then Thirdy committed an offensive foul, Matt Nieto’s lazy pass was picked off by Rivero. And Go was whistled for traveling.

Was the final play good? Sure, it was. Isaac just missed. If he made it, Baldwin would once more be hailed as a genius (as if he isn’t already).

What La Salle got right was they shackled Matt Nieto in the fourth period where he has burned opponents. Matt had one attempt (he missed) and one rebound. That’s it. Not counting the costly turnover. By game’s end, La Salle scored six turnover points in the fourth period to Ateneo’s two. That was the difference right there.

In contrast, La Salle’s top two players in crunch time got going — Ricci Rivero had 12 points in the fourth while Mbala added 7.

I have always postulated — even going back to last season — if Ateneo wants to take the title, Ikeh needs to play well. The Big Fella has been all right this season. His finest since his rookie year of Season 77. But he was in foul trouble during the game.

One can make the case for the officiating but both sides saw bum calls. And in spite of that, Ateneo still had a chance to win but they botched it.

Having said all of that, you have to like how Raffy Verano, giving up some height, gamely battled on. Ditto with Vince Tolentino in limited minutes. Even Kris Porter, usually overmatched, gave an okay account of himself.

What do the Blue Eagles need to do? They need to get Asistio untracked. They need Mike Nieto chipping in quality minutes. And Ravena needs recognize that La Salle knows what he is going to do when he spins in that lane and when he needs to pick up the pace.

It’s a tough loss but the team should take comfort that sweeps are never Ateneo’s best suit in the UAAP. Ateneo ended La Salle’s dreams of an undefeated season last year by shocking them in the second round. The Green Archers paid the favor. Now the onus is on the Blue Eagles to adjust and see off FEU, first.

As for La Salle, they are in familiar territory in the Final Four. The question is… how much has Adamson grown in the last year? Can they bring it against La Salle?

Sportshub ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
  • Follow Us:
Sports Skinning Right, pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1