Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Battles: ADMU vs UST S74 Final Four

The Center Battle
  • UST's Karim Abdul  versus ADMU's Greg Slaughter, featuring a cameo by Frank Golla
Prior to this game, the storyline was all about how Karim Abdul had shut down Greg Slaughter in their regular season meetings, how Abdul would be fired up after sitting out their last regular season game due to suspension, how Slaughter seemed to force things versus the big men of Adamson, and so on. In the first quarter, Abdul did dominate, scoring 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting with three rebounds and a block. The difference was that Slaughter did not back down, scoring points as well, already beating his six point average in the game's first right minutes, scoring eight while going 4 for 4 from the field.

But the Eagles were not going to get anywhere swapping basket for basket with Abdul, thus, send in the reserves, as Frank "The Tank" Golla was given the defensive job of handling the Cameroonian. Guess what, the move turned out to be genius. Unlike Slaughter, who seemed to be too "gigil," leaping into the air everytime Abdul made the slightest twitch of his shoulders (if I was 7-feet tall and had his wing span, I don't think I'd even jump to try to block a shot), Golla played him straight up, and refused to bite on his fakes. Meanwhile, Ateneo head coach Norman Black must have been pointing out what Golla was doing to Slaughter, as when Golla sat back down, Slaughter had learned his lesson, shutting down Abdul for that quarter. All in all, Abdul was 0 for 6 from the field in that period, 1 of 4 for the rest of the game, as the fatigue clearly set in by around the third quarter.

Abdul wound up scoring five more points after the first quarter, finishing with a line of 16 points, 16 boards, two steals and two blocks. Slaughter had nine points after the first ten minutes of play, outscoring Abdul with 17 points, plus eight rebounds and three blocks, before cramping up late.

The Backcourt Battle
  • ADMU's Kirk Long and Emman Monfort versus UST's Jeric Fortuna and Jeric Teng
In their final year as Blue Eagles, Long and Monfort have seen their scoring go down (currently averaging 8.3 and 7.1 points, after 9.6 and 8.9 a season ago) but it barely matters to them as that hasn't been their role. What they have been doing is locking down on the top two perimeter threats of the other team and running the show for the other players. It's a stark contrast to the two Jeric's of UST, who have had to do more work on the offensive end due to the absence of Clark Bautista (Fortuna jumped from 10.4 points a game to 13.6, while Teng went from 12.9 points to 14 a game).

Similar to their regular season encounters, Teng and Fortuna were controlled throughout the first three periods, combining for just nine points. When the chips were down though, the UST backcourt was able to make it a game in the final period, scoring 11 as an upset seemed like a distinct possibility. Unfortunately, Fortuna giveth (three assists) but he also taketh away (two turnovers), and he was unable to score on the overtime-forcing triple try on the last shot. It wasn't all glitter and gold for the Ateneo side either, as both Monfort and Long went scoreless in the final period, with Long in particular, missing three triple attempts, any one of which could have been dagger shots. In the end though, the Blue Eagle duo combined for nine assists and played praise-worthy defense, even in the face of a suddenly hot pair.

The Rookie Battle
  • UST's Kevin Ferrer versus ADMU's Kiefer Ravena
Kiefer Ravena denies that it became a rematch of their Juniors Finals in the fourth quarter of this game, saying that it was always "Ateneo versus UST." It sure didn't seem like it though, as the regular season Juniors MVP took on the Finals Juniors MVP of Season 73, just like what happened nearly a year ago. In previous games, Ravena had flourished, taking on the assignment of guarding the taller Ferrer happily, stretching back to their encounter in the summer's Fil-Oil tournament. What made the assignment work, allowing Ateneo to leave Monfort and Long to handle the Jerics, was that despite the height advantage of Ferrer, the former Tiger Cub did not know how to use it, content to just throw up shots from the perimeter (1 of 12 in the regular season), and even those refused to connect.

In the fourth quarter, Ferrer finally seemed to take it personally, and began posting Ravena up, but you could see how uncomfortable and how alien the maneuver seemed to him, even committing an offensive foul once for elbowing Ravena out of the low post. Still, numbers-wise, Ferrer's eight points helped keep UST alive, and was the first time he scored double-digits versus the Eagles. Ravena on the other hand, had five in the fourth, but could have been better, shooting only 2 of 6 from the field, missing out on some of his fadeaways, and converting just 1 of 3 potentially huge free throws, after drawing Ferrer's fifth on a triple try.

 The Reserves Battle
  • ADMU's Justin Chua, Tonino Gonzaga and Juami Tiongson versus UST's Robin Tan and Melo Afuang
In a do or die game, UST coach Pido Jarencio knew that he had to lean on his starters, as only reserve bigs Paolo Pe and Melo Afuang saw more than five minutes off the bench. Afuang of course, was a surprise, coming out of recovery from gallstone surgery early to play in this game, finishing with five points and six rebounds. Meanwhile, Robin Tan had never made a field goal in the regular season, going 0 for 9 overall, 0 for 5 from beyond the arc. But he finally hit a shot, a triple to boot, in the game's second period, to the delight of the UST side.

On the other side of the court, the result was the opposite. After being maligned for most of the regular season, Black actually gave key minutes to his reserves, and they rewarded his confidence in him with some big moments. It was Tonino Gonzaga and Juami Tiongson who helped create the separation between the two squads in the second quarter, scoring their combined 10 points in the first half. Then with Slaughter succumbing to cramps, Justin Chua ably filled in for the big man in the final period for five points, snagging a crucial offensive rebound of a Long miss that allowed him to hit a free throw to prop Ateneo up four with less than a minute.   

The Forwards Battle
  • UST's Chris Camus versus ADMU's Nico Salva
The opposite of the Abdul-Slaughter match-up in the regular season, Salva has menaced Camus especially when isolated against him, beating him off the dribble, oftentimes in fantastic manner. A scoreless first quarter gave way to both players getting into a groove, though Camus was certainly hindered by foul trouble. And while Salva was able to add to his highlight reel with another fantastic play, getting the step on Camus for a nice layup, the former San Beda Team B player unleashed two big triples in the fourth quarter, going back to his days as a shooter, to two UST to good position. Unfortunately for him though, in the end, Salva was able to seal the game with two free throws, paving the way for his team to advance to the Finals. Camus will have to wait a year to get his revenge.

8 Things I Think
  • Now that I've gotten confirmation that Melo Afuang and Chris Camus will indeed be back for next season (there was some notion that they would fall victim to the 7-years out of high school rule), I think that the Tigers are poised to return to the Final Four. Getting back guys like Clark Bautista, Aljon Mariano, and Eduardo Daquioag will give them more firepower and ease the pressure off Fortuna and Teng. 
  • I don't think Ateneo's defense was horrible in the final period, it's just that it will always give up long-range shots because that's what it's designed to do, according to head coach Norman Black: deny the interior and make opponents beat them from the outside. Luckily for them, they had a big enough lead that UST could not complete the comeback.
  • I think UST's end to the third quarter was a huge missed opportunity, as they tried to cut a 15-point lead down to single digits. Despite repeated trips to the line, Camus and Afuang finished just 3 of 8, making it 52-40 entering the final period.
  • I think it surprised a lot of people that the Tigers didn't try to zone more often, insisting on matching up one on one with the Eagles. UST seemed intent on getting the rebounding advantage, something they would lose if they went zone, but it would have been a worthy gamble considering Ateneo was just 7 of 32 from the perimeter for 16 points. 
  • I think Ateneo's recent inability to hit free throws is rather disturbing. They ended the season tops with a 72.83 clip, but are just 30 of 49 for 61.22 percent in their past two games.
  • I think the person happiest to see Kirk Long finally graduate is Jeric Teng, though I'm sure Tigers fans in general are happy to see him go
  • I think Pido Jarencio deserves to be head coach again for the Tigers next season.
  • I think if UST decides to part ways with Jarencio, they need to strongly consider keeping assistant Chris Cantonjos as long as Abdul is with the team. 

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