UAAP: Looking at the Ateneo’s 1st round win over NU

Rick Olivares - Philstar.com
UAAP: Looking at the Ateneoâs 1st round win over NU
Ange Kouame

MANILA, Philippines – Watching Ateneo defeat National University, 77-60, I thought of two things.

One, the Blue Eagles handled the Bulldogs much better than last year. They understood how this team plays with all its physicality and gameness. It helped that NU had to alter their game plan with Omar John going to the bench earlier than expected due to foul trouble. And it hurt that Germy Mahinay did not play up to par. 

Can you imagine how that hurts with two of their bigs not playing well while Ateneo’s Angelo Kouame’s stellar play offset the continuing struggles of Gio Chiu? 

Two, it reminded me of the start of this Ateneo-NU rivalry that dated back to 2011, where the Bulldogs under Eric Altamirano began tugging at the Blue Eagles’ feathers. First as foils but later as worthy adversaries. 

NU played an Ateneo team with Greg Slaughter, Kiefer Ravena, Nico Salva and company in a preseason tourney. NU handily won that game and in the final minute of play, the small NU gallery began chanting “uwi na kayo.” 

Then-head coach Norman Black glared at the hecklers as the rest of the Blue Eagles looked extremely miffed. Then-NU coach Eric Altamirano frantically waved at their supporters to stop. 

Come the UAAP, Ateneo mercilessly crushed the Bulldogs. Twice. For the next two years.

NU had to wait for another year before they finally took the season series from the Blue Eagles.

These Bulldogs are for real. Since Jeff Napa took over as head coach last season, he gave this hitherto downtrodden team a massive facelift as they played with a high intensity and an in-your-face brand of basketball. The preseason title is not “chamba” but an indication of the all-hands-on-deck mentality that Napa has instilled.

Unfortunately for them, Tab Baldwin has instilled this calm demeanor about his team.

For years, the paragon of execution in college basketball notwithstanding their finals loss in Season 84, you have to like their just-play approach.

Dave Ildefonso is key to this. He is playing more like his old self with the Blue Eaglets where he did a little of everything. 

NU attacked the basket from the opening tip, and unlike the previous match where they were content to bombard from the outside, Ateneo took the game inside scoring 40 points on 20/30 shooting while NU labored for 36 points on 18/38. Kouame finally showed that aggressiveness. 

It was also good that Kai Ballungay got into the flow of the game as he netted 10 points and three rebounds. 

And this time, Ateneo took better outside shots while in the flow of the game as they hit 10/25 (although there was a spell where the second unit was in and they jacked up shots once more like it was their only resort). 

Of concern for Ateneo is the confidence level of Paul Garcia, who took a couple of 3-point attempts that missed then became gun shy. And there’s Chiu, who has played smaller than his height. If he continues to play soft, why not give those minutes to Matthew Daves? All that sitting on the bench does nothing for his confidence either.

As for NU, after the first few minutes when they took a brief 4-0 lead, they unraveled due to a lack of focus and the Blue Eagles’ defense. 

They have new heroes in Jolo Manansala and Jhay Baclaan to help out Michael Malonzo, John Lloyd Clemente, John Figueroa and Wilson Yu as they seek new firepower resources after Ernest Felicilda and Reyland Torres decamped for UP (and with Nash Enriquez still in sick bay). 

NU has a chance to bounce back against UST, while Ateneo plays rival La Salle in the matches this coming Sunday, October 9.






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