Friday, September 26, 2008

UAAP Season 71 Finals: On The Shoulders Of Defensive Giants

In the immortal words of famed La Salle basketball player Zandro "Jun" Limpot, "We are the championship!"
The Band of Blue dethrones Green Archers
By Jasmine W. Payo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—It was a championship that marked a regime change for the country’s most fabled and fancied school rivalry.

In a remarkable group effort by this band in blue, the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles dethroned the De La Salle University Green Archers Thursday, completing a two-game sweep of the UAAP Finals with a 62-51 victory Thursday night in front of an overflow crowd at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.

The Eagles, frustrated by the University of Santo Tomas Tigers two years ago, accomplished their return to glory by refusing to lean on one dominant performer and showing the same kind of heart that made them this year’s top seed.

“We did not win this game in offense tonight, we won it at the defensive end,” Ateneo coach Norman Black said. “We’re a pretty intelligent team this year. We could actually execute defensive strategies that I’ve never been able to execute for other teams in Ateneo. A lot of credit goes to the players for being dedicated to defense.”

The following are my notes from the game:
Second Quarter
I tune in just in time to see Nonoy Baclao sink two free throws for an 18-12 Ateneo advantage.

La Salle cuts the lead to three before Chris Tiu buckles down to work. He scores seven straight points to increase the lead to ten points.

The Green Archers again creep to within seven but the Blue Eagles drop a quarter-ending 8-0 bomb to take a 15-point lead into the dugout.

That Ateneo manages to lead big is remarkable. League MVP Rabeh Al-Hussaini is forced to ride the bench due to early foul trouble. More impressive, seven Blue Eagles, led by Tiu and reserve Jobe Nkemakolam, score at least two points in the second quarter.

On the floor with the Blue Babble Battalion are female cheerleaders and members of the Blue Babble Band's Drumline. Very nice.

Stats show Ateneo ahead on field goal percentage, assists, fast break points, and bench scoring.

Third Quarter
La Salle opens the second half with five straight points to cut the lead to ten. In the third they outscore Ateneo 21-9 on the strength of six three pointers, four coming from JV Casio. At the end of the quarter what was once a fifteen-point lead is now down to three.

Fourth Quarter
Ateneo's offense continues to stall. But behind free throws from Tiu and Rookie of the Year Ryan Buenafe, the Blue Eagles erect a seven-point lead.

The Ateneo defense, however, is peerless. They hold La Salle to just four points the entire fourth quarter. Baclao, the Defensive Player of the Year, leads the way with two late-game blocks to thwart the Green Archers.

With the Blue Eagles still up by eight at the two-minute mark the TV commentators can no longer be heard. The Ateneo crowd is hog-wild!

Jai Reyes scores the Blue Eagles' last five points for a final winning margin of eleven points. Ateneo is the Season 71 seniors division men's basketball champions!

Player of the Game honors went to Chris Tiu, who bounced back from two consecutive tepid games against UE and La Salle. He tallied 16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal. In his last season as a Blue Eagle, he can finally call himself a champion.

"I Am Nonoy" Baclao took home the Finals MVP trophy. He averaged 7.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.5 blocks in the two victories over La Salle and anchored Ateneo's defense.
Ateneo now has a 27-35 win-loss record against their arch-rivals. But more important, they are up 3-1 against La Salle in championship match-ups.

The Blue Eagles' next task: repeat as champions in Season 72. The prospects of that are good, as only Tiu and co-captain Yuri Escueta are set to leave the team. I can't wait for next year!

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