Looking at FEU's demolition of Ateneo

MANILA, Philippines - This match between Ateneo and FEU … this was like that fourth match between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. The Tamaraws couldn't wait for this and boy did they land a haymaker. They probably wish though this was for the championship because it is only one game.
 
During the singing of the alma mater after the 88-64 win, it only dawned upon FEU Coach Nash Racela that his Tamaraws had beaten Ateneo in the UAAP only when he saw the sad faces on the blue and white side.
 
"In my three years in the UAAP, this is my first win over Ateneo," said Racela, who himself went to Ateneo High School. Mike Tolomia had to correct him that they beat the Blue Eagles in one match during Season 76 right after the Ateneo dynasty crumbled. However, it must have seemed like an eternity as they lost two heartbreaking matches to the Blue Eagles last season.
 
For Tolomia and Russell Escoto, the hurt has dated back to high school when they lost to Kiefer Ravena's Blue Eaglets in the Juniors Division then to the four-peat Ateneo team of 2011. Plus, Mike got cut from Sinag prior to the last Southeast Asian Games. He is out to show that he is the UAAP's best point guard today. 

Heading into Sunday's matchup, the FEU duo's record versus the Blue Eagles was a poor 3-9, finals matches included.
 
Another motivation for FEU was Jerie Pingoy suiting up for Ateneo. The supposed heir to FEU's recent line of topnotch point guards, from Mark Barroca to RR Garcia to Terrence Romeo and up to Tolomia, was in Katipunan and not Morayta. He spurned his school and went elsewhere and in doing so ruffled more than a few feathers. 
 
FEU couldn't have asked for a more perfect opening day opponent. Why not? There were only three players left from the five-peat teams and the Blue Eagles had so many untested parts.
 
Want a glimpse into how the Tamaraws viewed this match? Yes, it was motivation, but they didn't think of the newbies at all.
 
"If we think that we're playing rookies, we might fall out of our game plan," revealed Racela in a conversation I had with him after the game. "We just looked at everyone na pantay-pantay and stick to our game plan."
 
I tabbed FEU as the favorite owing to their veterans, and they have loads of them - Tolomia, Escoto, Mac Belo, Roger Pogoy, Raymar Jose, Monbert Arong, Achi Iñigo and Ron Dennison - to go with the hunger factor. I just didn't think they'd bowl over the Blue Eagles by 24-points.
 
This was the worst opening day loss since Norman Black's debut in Ateneo, where the Blue Eagles were crushed by La Salle by 20 points. And Ateneo got a dose of the medicine that they gave FEU during Game One of the Season 73 Finals, a 72-49 drubbing where the eventual three-peat champs showed that the elimination losses are simply that -- elims matches and the playoffs and beyond are their territory. But those days seem like ages ago.
 
Here are some post-game thoughts:
 
FEU outrebounded Ateneo, 46-40. That isn't much considering the score and besides the Blue Eagles pulled down 15 offensive rebounds to the 10 of FEU. Here is what you should look at - they shot a blistering 51 percent from the field. And both teams took almost the same amount of shots - FEU's 74 to Ateneo's 75.
 
The Tams even survived taking only FOUR free throws to the 12 of Ateneo. Economical indeed.
 
FEU shot 35 percent from 3-point range to Ateneo's 27 percent. 
 
FEU was never in penalty situation. That's because there were fewer Ateneo attacks inside as most of the shots were from the outside.  
 
Mike Tolomia was amazing. He showed the whole repertoire - threes, coast-to-coast drives, pull-ups, turn-around fadeaways. The graduating Tamaraw super guard finished with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
 
Russell Escoto is back! Aside from Mike's shooting, Escoto's defense and energy also set the tone defensively for FEU.He only scored 6 points but he also chalked up 8 rebounds and 3 blocks! Massive contribution.
 
That tomahawk slam by Mac Belo is as of two playing days, a candidate for shot/play of the season. I asked Mac about it and he said that he was just planning to go for a layup. When there was no challenge, he elevated and well, hello YouTube!
 
The Tamaraws have flexibility as Roger Pogoy comes off the bench (he always has), ditto with Raymar Jose.
 
Kiefer Ravena, who had a sensational game (25 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists) looked to help his teammates get going (although he got tired in the end). The King Eagle tried to run the pick and roll with Chibueze Ikeh to no avail. He found many teammates who either muffed their shots or turned the ball over. When the time came for him to take charge, he did. But almost always, FEU responded. There was a moment when the Blue Eagles went on a third quarter run with the score at 64-49 but a Tamaraw player poked the ball away from Arvin Tolentino who elected to bring down the ball himself. The result? A Mac Belo reverse layup and a five-oh run that put the game away.
 
Gwyne Capacio played one of his best games thus far and he will only play better. Glad to see him chip in with 14 points and 4 boards. 
 
Ponso Gotladera performed well again in the limited minutes he got. Six points and 6 boards in 13 minutes. 
 
Ateneo likes to attack on the transition but can't run if you can't rebound. Furthermore, they might want to think of speeding up their attack instead of taking so long in the shot clock to decide what to do. FEU was relentless. 
 
I will give the Ateneo coaching staff the benefit of the doubt on their opening day matches as that includes some nerves and butterflies with regards to some players, tweaking here and there, and you have to credit them with looking for combinations to stop the bleeding. But there were some weird combos on the floor.
 
Someone asked me why at one point were a bunch of newcomers as well as small ball on the floor. Don't worry about that. I and I am sure many other astute followers of the game have seen that were teams like La Salle, UE, or even UP throw in their newcomers because they provide a lot of energy and hustle when the veterans aren't playing well. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. 
 
My more immediate thought was: why aren't you playing Ikeh more? He is a legitimate rim protector. Why didn't we see a more traditional four and five with Ponso Gotladera and Ikeh inside? Because of this, we saw Raymar Jose quickly post up Kiefer and the former scored 11 straight points (some on putbacks).
 
When FEU was running away with the lead, others took poor shots instead of going inside. One year later, there are too many shots from the outside. 
 
It was a miserable and embarrassing debut for Jerie Pingoy who missed all his six attempts although he had three rebounds and one assist. His very first shot was somewhat foolhardy as he drove to the right but Russell Escoto emphatically sent back his shot. Merong halong gigil factor here. Now that his debut is done, he should or hopefully should adjust and play better. 
 
Don't worry, Jerie. In Kiefer's first match - and that was against Adamson - he didn't score a single point. Given the proper coaching, motivation, and attitude, it should work out for you.
 
Having said that,  maybe it is time for the team to reconsider their not playing in the summer tournaments as opposed to training abroad because in my opinion, I am not sure how that helps them. Ateneo got by during the five-peat because opponents had no answers for Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Greg Slaughter (in addition to fielding a super team). If they had seen this FEU team during the summer tournaments they would have been more familiar with them. They would have seen Roger Pogoy play so much better, Raymar Jose improve by leaps and bounds. And what Monbert Arong can do.
 
I've been keeping track of this (and I know a few others are as well) but the two other teams that eschewed playing in the summer tournaments bombed out of contention - UST in 2007 and 2008 and Mapua two years ago. When UST returned, they gained the requisite experience and made two finals appearances in the UAAP. The Cardinals went 0-14 after skipping the pre-season to train on their own and when they returned, they too got the experience needed to become NCAA Final Four contenders.
 
I am not saying playing in the pre-season makes you a contender. I am saying that knowing the other teams from hard won experience, you will know how to adjust. You do not get that through simulation. How do you simulate Mac Belo and Mike Tolomia in practice? You don't just consider their talent but also their motivation.
 
Ateneo cut short its summer participation two years ago and completely shunned the organized tourneys in 2014. Maybe it's coincidence that they crashed out each time even missing the Final Four in 2013 and having said that, maybe next year, they'll reconsider and play again.
 
Back to the game. It is just one game. Although some things can be gleaned from how it was played it is still too early to jump into conclusions. Everyone, including the winners, will adjust after their season debuts. Nevertheless, for Ateneo, it is back to the drawing board.
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