Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Cinquel: Or How the "Drive for Five" was completed

This piece serves as my initial post for Hoo.Ph. (The actual post can be seen here).

History has been made, as the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles proceeded to do what was perceived to be the unthinkable. By sweeping the postseason, they became the first team to win five straight UAAP Men's Basketball championships. (Before you raise a howl, yes, the University of the East won seven straight from 1965-71, but in 1967, they shared a championship with the University of Santo Tomas, mainly because both teams' coaches decided to not reveal their 2nd half starting fives to the officials).

How did Ateneo assert themselves in the Finals? How did they secure the championship in sweeping UST?

Before the Finals, I wrote my thoughts on my own sports blog my own snippets of how the Finals would turn out. It would be a good idea to revisit these and see how things went based from that prism.
1. Baseline action. Look for Pido to do some PnRs with some baseline plays akin to what Gee did with Yutien Andrada on Greg Slaughter during the Final Four, taking advantage of the slow-footed behemoth.
I thought Ateneo did enough defensively to make the necessary adjustments on the baseline. How do I know? Well, I don't remember really how UST took advantage of it.
2. Juami Tiongson / Nico Elorde on Jeric Fortuna. There is a huge drop on playmaking productivity from Jeric (5.5 assts in 33.8 minutes) to his deputy, streak-shooting Clark Bautista (1.9 assts in 24.2 minutes). It's up to the point guard tandem to put pressure on him, maybe even force him into foul trouble.
This was very apparent in Game 1, as the Blue Eagle Point Guard Corps shut him down. Jeric shot 1/11 from the field, producing just four points and two assists in a whopping 38 minutes of action. Game 2 was a different story altogether, as he poured in twenty points in what turned out to be his final game as a Growling Tiger. You can probably say he went down fighting, that he went out in a blaze of glory with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists (and zero turnovers) in 35 minutes.
3. 2006 = 2012?. In 2006, Pido had a group of versatile forwards supporting Jervy Cruz. From Allan Evangelista to Dylan Ababou to Mark Canlas to Francis Allera. Can Aljon Mariano, Melo Afuang and Kevin Ferrer be able to live up to being the versatile forwards supporting Karim Abdul?
Melo Afuang was sorely missed in Game 1, as he missed the game due to dengue. He was able to return in time for Game 2, but it was clear he was not at optimum playing capacity. He played 11 minutes in what turned out to be his final game as a Growling Tiger, with three rebounds (all on the offensive end) and an assist and missing his only attempt from the field. Aljon Mariano was crucial in Game 1, trying to match Nico Salva, point-for-point, finishing with 22. But he was effectively shut down in Game 2, shooting 2/10 for just four points. Kevin Ferrer had his hands full trying to be Kiefer Ravena's main defender, with the Phenom limited to 13 points in Game 1, but he took over in Game 2 with a game-high 22 points. Kevin did manage to get himself to score 13 in Game 1 and 7 in Game 2.
4. Rebounding. Even with Slaughter around, Ateneo has not really shown itself as a team that would dominate the boards (last in offensive boards, partly due to being the best shooting team in the UAAP). With Abdul around and his capability for 20-20 nights visible for the first time since Jervy, being able to keep him in check would be a plus. In addition, UST is the best when it comes to offensive rebounding. Need to box out.
Ateneo overwhelmed UST in Game 1, a +10 edge in rebounds (+4 in offensive end), while in Game 2, they virtually even (47-46), although the Growling Tigers owned the offensive boards, doubling the Blue Eagles 20-10.
5. Poise. Pido prides on his 3 P's. But does he and the Growling Tigers have the necessary gumption when the situation calls for it? We have seen time and again how the Blue Eagles during this string of success when the chips are down. They have prided on their clutch-ness this season.
Need a basket? Someone from Ateneo will get it for you, whether from Kiefer Ravena slashing through the lane, or a medium-range jumper from Nico Salva, or huge shotgun-cocking three from Juami Tiongson. Need a key rebound, Ryan Buenafe gets the key tip. Or Greg Slaughter using his size to get the ball first. You'd see Ryan Buenafe issue a nifty assist or a issue the pass that eventually becomes a key bucket. That's how years of championship experience get you ready for these situations, not to mention the collective high basketball IQs of the team, led by Coach Norman Black. This is true, especially on the defensive end. The Growling Tigers committed eleven turnovers, but two were especially costly, a 5-second inbounds violation that doubly hurt because it came off a timeout, and the final play of the game with Tiongson intercepting the Clark Bautista pass to Jeric Fortuna, effectively handing the championship over.

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