Breaking down that exhausting Ateneo win over NU

Blue Eagles' Kiefer Ravena (left) and Bulldogs' Gelo Alolino. | Composite Image/Philstar.com File Photos

MANILA, Philippines - In my last breakdown of an Ateneo Blue Eagles match, I said that it will get ugly before it gets better.

Well, ugly reared its head once more as Ateneo climbed up to 2-1 with a pulsating, riveting, nervy, agonizing, - throw in a choice expletive in here - and maddening 74-70 win over defending champions National University in double overtime.
 
You really have to give it to the defending champions. They did not roll over and die. They nearly even won it without their big men when Gelo Alolino nearly buried a shot right before the buzzer.
 
Let me break it down.
 
Key stats:
Ateneo outrebounded NU for the first time in seven match-ups: 57-46 with a whopping 32 coming off the offensive board. That meant that the Blue Eagles had 21 second chance points to NU's 10.
NU committed 30 turnovers to Ateneo's 22. The Bulldogs scored 25 TOs points while the Blue Eagles bested them in that department, 33-25.
 
Alfred Aroga played 24 minutes out of a possible 50 minutes. That was because he got into foul trouble. Some might have been ticky tacky fouls some may be not. But he is really the missing link. The gentle Cameroonian scored 14 points as he began to attack the basket. The fouls hurt him and eventually the team as Kyle Neypes and Raph Tansingco eventually fouled out as well.
And here's the kicker - Ateneo attempted 43 free throws to the 16 of NU. Yet, the Blue Eagles shoot poorly hitting only 22 of them while NU missed only four shots. 
 
Concerns:
I kept wondering why Ateneo opted to shoot from the outside even with Alfred Aroga out of the game. When the team was in need of tying the game, then they'd go in. 
 
If Ateneo attempted to spread the offense around and find other options outside Kiefer Ravena then it somewhat worked. But I don't understand why they kept Von Pessumal on the floor even if he kept misfiring or even after a key turnover late in the game. Don't get me wrong, Pessumal is one of my favorite players but he was in the middle of nightmarish game. Yes, he is the veteran with championship experience, one of three left on this team but I can't help but think that if Hubert Cani makes a mistake, he is subbed out. Arvin Tolentino and John Apacible prior to this game, a cameo appearance, a mistake here, they go to the bench. Why not bring in Aaron Black if you needed a shooter? Since they kept him in the game, why not have him attack that basket? It is not like it isn't in his arsenal. His drive has always been one of his strong suits. And having said all of that, Von scored a crucial reverse lay-up and threw a beautiful pass to Chibueze Ikeh. My point, rest Von a bit and try someone else then bring him back in the endgame because you need that veteran in there.
 
Is that isolation play and a high screen the only thing Ateneo runs? In the first period, when the ball would go to Ponso Gotladera down low, but you know he was not looking to score. He was waiting for a cutter or even an open man to pass out to. Why not bang and attack and maybe score or fish for a foul? It is my belief that every man out on the floor should be a threat. Unless you are Dennis Rodman or Freddie Abuda. There was attempt at variety with Arvin Tolentino on the high post. But not much. Hardly anything. Just one iso after another.
 
Ateneo attempted 83 field goals and shot 30%! They had 55 jumpshots and hit only 13 of them. That is terrible shooting! When you compare that to the 12-28 FG clip from layups and tip-ins (many of these missed by Ikeh), why not go inside more? This is a game where NU got killed by a barrage of shots from the field and the free throw line.
 
Ateneo attempted a press late in the game but it looked halfhearted and really ugly. It is a staple of the Ateneo Blue Eaglets defense to press opponents into oblivion. They have done that since forever. Since we have a lot of guards who are not only very good ball-handlers but are also adept at pickpocketing opponents, why don't the seniors do the same? Hell, Joe Silva is part of the coaching staff. 
 
Defensively, one on one coverage on certain players has been good. They blanked two key gunners - JJ Alejandro and Rev Diputado. They limited the effectiveness of Alfred Aroga. But team defense, they need a little more work on the switches especially when NU drives sometimes the help is late leaving a clear lane to the basket.
 
Whoever the hell is manning the overhead LCD is an idiot. Why wasn't a replay shown of that incident between NU's Gelo Alolino and Ateneo's Jere Pingoy when the latter crumpled to the floor? A conversation with Pingoy after the match revealed that he got hit in the crotch area. Why didn't they show this if it happened? Where they afraid the Ateneo side would raise a huge collective outcry of protest?
 
When the referees missed that call where Pingoy scooted in from the blindside to steal the ball from Alolino that resulted in two free throws after the last foul by Alfred Aroga, they were showing the replay of the missed call then they cut it. Why? Where they afraid the NU crowd would riot over a crucial non-call?
 
Please don't cut what you are showing on screen midway or not show a play because it is like you are trying to hide something.
 
For Ateneo, it is good to see them get very good games from some players not named Kiefer Ravena (21 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, and 5 turnovers). 
 
Chibueze Ikeh was pretty good. He tallied 14 points and 17 rebounds (with 14 coming from the offensive board). He also added two blocks to go with two turnovers. He hit clutch free throws and scored on a nifty pass by Arvin Tolentino. If he can just dunk that ball instead of trying to lay it in or bank it off the boards, he would score more. He is the rim protector Ateneo needs and is getting better with each game. When was the last time an Ateneo crowd cheers for a name of one player? The only one I can remember was Larry Fonacier in his last UAAP game.
 
Jerie Pingoy. After a horrendous debut against FEU, he is slowly showing what he can do and he is going to become a big time player especially in the next few years. Makes up for for his height disadvantage by playing smart ball. Sure there are TOs here and there but that is because of a lack of big game experience. That two-handed inbound pass to Kiefer Ravena over the NU defense where the Phenom simply laid the ball in for a nakaw layup shows the kid has great intelligence for the game and the stones and audacity to pull it off. That steal off Alolino, whether missed call or not, shows that he never stops playing. 
 
Arvin Tolentino. 6 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 2 TOs. He is starting to get his confidence going with a little more playing time. That pass to Ikeh was a thing of beauty. His three-pointer was awkward; not of the kind he used to hit last season, but that sure felt good for him.
 
John Apacible. Four years ago, while handling the media relations for the National Basketball Training Center and the Metro Manila Basketball League (yes, I watch a lot of high school basketball aside from the UAAP and NCAA), I began watching Hope Christian High Schools basketball team. It was there where I saw Apacible, Clint Doliguez, and Jollo Go (now with La Salle). After watching some more, I befriended them and gauged their interest. I then called Ateneo scout Jojo dela Rama and told them to check them out. I even made my way to HCHS patron and Ateneo alumnus, Cecilio Pedro, to send them to Loyola Heights. Watching them not used and not given the confidence made me upset. Seeing the bunot of Apacible yesterday and get some meaningful minutes where he contributed mightily was a great feeling. John tallied 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block and 1 turnover. 
 
Gideon Babilonia. I will have to admit that I like the kid. Am just not a fan of his game and thought that he was a waste of space. But in the last two games, he has accounted well for himself. He is fighting inside. Not easily giving up space and contributing. And is doing very well. It was his defense that sparked the Blue Eagles' third quarter run against Adamson. And he did pretty well against Alfred Aroga. There's a quiet confidence emanating from him now as his contributions grow.
 
The good news for Ateneo fans is this team is learning to win. You can see them grow as they play high stakes basketball. Ugly games, especially ugly wins are still wins and they build character. They are getting better and 2-1 is a hell of a lot better than 1-2. And for the record, this was a HUGE win as they got the monkey off their back. 
 
The question now is - where do they go from here. Do they get better? The ugly games will continue for sure but as long as it ends up in a win it is good because they will learn from this.
 
For NU, I feel bad for the defending champs who find themselves in a 0-3 hole. There has been no defending champion who started out the season with that record and who have turned things around. 
 
They have their concerns:
They outrebounded their first two opponents, yet lost. 
Vs DLSU 47-42 (including 26 defensive rebounds to DLSU's 32)
Vs UE 41-34 (including 31 defensive rebounds to UE's 19).
Against Ateneo, they got killed on the glass and lost again.
 
The Bulldogs had more free throws in their first two games, yet they still lost.
Vs DLSU: 23-22 attempts
Vs UE 24-19 attempts
Against Ateneo, there was that whopping 43-16 disparity.

Gelo Alolino is the only player who is playing consistently for them. What they need are for others, Aroga, Kyle Neypes, Jeff Javillionar, and JJ Alejandro to really break out of their shell. Javillionar is a shade of his former self. He doesn't have the confidence. In NU's first game against La Salle, he did a great job defensively against Jason Perkins in the first half. Ticky tacky fouls here and there limited his effectiveness the rest of the way. Years ago, he played like Glenn Khobuntin - driving fearlessly into the lane. We have yet to see that. Wasn't there during the summer and it sure isn't right now. Nikko Abatayo has talent but the college game seems to overwhelm him. With a little more exposure he will toughen up.

Having said that, they really need to get that wing attack going.

After this loss, they will no longer run onto the court with the stand of champions. There is blood in the water and opposing teams can smell it. They aren't afraid.

They were still able to befuddle Ateneo with their maze of screens and picks but some shots just wouldn't fall. 
 
It is back to the drawing board, for both teams.
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