Welcome to The Rewind, where the Humblebola team looks back at the past and talks about details only a few may have noticed.
Five years ago, the Ateneo Blue Eagles were on the brink of sweeping the elimination round en route to their fourth straight championship. We all know they wound up getting that title. But there was one blip to that season, where a particular bird soared higher for the first time in so long.
Toby Pavon wants to take us back. Let’s Rewind and remember what happened on 9-10-11.
The Soaring Falcons are set to post their best season in recent memory. Coming off two consecutive Final Four appearances, Coach Franz Pumaren has taken a cellar dweller and shaped them into perennial contenders in the span of a season. But this doesn’t mean that the Falcons are strangers to success. Before Pumaren, the Cali-boys, and even Papi Sarr, the Falcons were favorites to win it all not too long ago and they stood on top of the collegiate sports world for one brief moment on 9-10-11.
Season 74 marked one of the absolute best seasons for the Soaring Falcons. The year before they finally broke into the Final Four through the mentorship of then relatively unknown Coach Leo Austria. While they were readily bounced out by the eventual champions Ateneo Blue Eagles, it was a sign of things to come for the Falcons, and the signs pointed up.
Entering Season 74, the Falcons were primed and ready for takeoff. They lost a major contributor in Mike Galinato, and the captain’s hat passed on from Jan Julius Colina to Jerick Cañada. In return, they were filled to the brim with promise, hop, and experience.
But the Falcons weren’t the only ones with a spanking new roster. The Blue Eagles entered Season 74 with new weapons as well. Greg Slaughter, Ateneo’s 7-foot recruit from the Visayas had just served the necessary residency period and would make his debut that year. Helping him out was juniors MVP and all-around Phenom Kiefer Ravena who was set to take his skills to the big leagues as their prized rookie.
By the graces of the basketball gods, the season opener for the Falcons that season was against the very team that eliminated them the year before. Before this game, the Soaring Falcons had a looming 28-game losing streak against the Eagles in the UAAP, but there was hope that the streak would end. During the pre-season, both Adamson and Ateneo were the finalists for the Fil-Oil tournament which saw Adamson taking one game in a best of three. Though Ateneo won that tournament, it was enough to shine a ray of hope that some way somehow, the UAAP losing streak would come to an end.
But it was not meant to be. Adamson and Ateneo faced off in a tight battle, Adamson brandishing tempered veterans, Ateneo debuting prized rookies and recruits. While Adamson’s backcourt did quick work of the rookie sensation, forcing the future UAAP MVP to a scoreless seniors debut; the giant from the Visayas was too much for them to handle.
Adamson was not alone in finding difficulty containing the 7-foot Slaughter as Ateneo went on a rampage to defend its UAAP championship. Ateneo, for the most part of Season 74, looked invincible.
Meanwhile, Adamson was on a warpath. Their first-round meeting against FEU saw them route the heavily favored Tamaraws in a game that was aired hours after the match to make way for the annual La Salle vs Ateneo spectacle. This big win over the reigning runners-up cemented Adamson’s status as a contender that year. But they were not alone.
Throughout the season it was a neck and neck race for a spot in the Final Four. Ateneo was way ahead of the pack going unblemished. Meanwhile, FEU was on-pace with Adamson to take the 2nd spot. UST and DLSU were at each other’s necks for the fourth spot.
As the second round was coming to a close, FEU had gotten even with Adamson, cutting Adamson’s lead in wins over them to two. But Adamson was unfazed. With a 9-3 win-loss record coming into the last 2 games of the eliminations, Adamson only needed to win one more game to secure the second spot, and for the first time in its history, the twice-to-beat advantage.
Heading into their second to the last game, hopes and spirits were high and everyone was sure they were going to get it in that game against UST. In the second round, Adamson was looking stronger than ever, notching a clutch win over DLSU with a buzzer-beating pull up jump shot by Alexander Nuyles, then getting even with the Bulldogs and routing UE and UP. Adamson put away the Final Four seeking UST in the first round with a 3-point shooting exhibition that poured as heavily as the rain outside the Philsports Arena that afternoon, and in the first half of their second-round matchup, it looked like a replay.
Adamson quickly gained a 10-point lead over UST heading into halftime, but when the second half began, the Falcons, their coaches, and their fans could only watch as their double-digit lead, their assured twice-to-beat advantage, slowly faded away with every basket made by Jeric Teng, Jeric Fortuna and Karim Abdul. When the final buzzer sounded, the mood of not only the Falcons hopefuls but the entire UAAP fandom except for Ateneo, changed.
Through the rollercoaster season that the seven other UAAP teams were having, Ateneo was happily gliding through the eliminations without so much as a road bump. One by one they dispatched their challengers en route to what many expected to be a clean sweep of the season. Throughout their sweep, they looked virtually unbeatable. Their schedule had placed their 14th and final game against the Soaring Falcons, a team they had then beaten 27 times in a row. Reeling from a loss, Adamson’s morale was at an all-time low, this should have been a cakewalk for the defending champs. What changed?
For one, Adamson knew the implications of losing in their last game. If they lost, Ateneo would have gotten a straight trip to the Finals and Adamson would have to go through the stepladder format which would have meant a virtual best of three against FEU. Adamson wanted to avoid a step-ladder, so did FEU, and UST, and every UAAP fan not rooting for Ateneo that year. Adamson also wanted to secure a twice-to-beat advantage.
With the fate of the Final Four on their shoulders, the Falcons called into question their own commitment toward becoming contenders and responded with a loud and defiant last stand against a team that was thought to be untouchable.
The afternoon of September 10, 2011 saw one of the biggest crowds to assemble for a UAAP game that was not for the Final Four nor between DLSU and Ateneo. Shades of blue filled Araneta Coliseum to the brim, royal blue closer to the court at the patron and lower box areas, but a darker navy blue as it got closer to the bleachers. It was the battle of the birds, Eagles agaisnt the Falcons, battle of the blues, a battle for the fate of the Final Four and the first to blink would lose.
As soon as the tip off the Falcons swooped into action. Lester Alvarez, one half of Adamson’s dynamic backcourt duo that year, opened the scoring with the only three-pointer he hit that game. Immediately there was an energy that came over the Falcons and allowed them to play as if they were possessed. With Alex Nuyles leading the charge, the Falcons jumped to an early 27-24 lead going into the half. In any other game, holding that slim a lead over Ateneo after so much effort spelled trouble. Coach Norman Black’s Ateneo team was famous for their third quarter adjustments where they would either comeback from a deficit or blow the game wide open. But this was no such game.
The Falcons were well aware of Ateneo’s ability to mount raging comebacks after the half, saw what they wanted to do and countered with a scoring tsunami of their own. Adamson out-scored Ateneo 23-7 in the third quarter by attacking the rim and making the most of their attempts at the line. On defense the Falcons feasted off the relative inexperience of Greg Slaughter, throwing quick doubles on him, forcing him to throw the ball away 6 times throughout the game.
Ateneo tried to mount one last comeback attempt to start the fourth. Kirk Long and Kiefer Ravena opened up the scoring for Ateneo pushing them on a 4-0 run. But the run was quickly snuffed out with more hot scoring from Nuyles and the gang. When the final buzzer sounded the expressions on the sea of blue split in two— half in celebration the other in shock.
This was the 10th win for the Falcons that season. With it, they clinched second place for the first time in team history. In the process, they prevented a stepladder format and forced a Final Four playoff, but more significantly they exorcised the blue demon that had been haunting them for 27-straight games.
Finally, finally, FINALLY… Adamson had beaten Ateneo in a UAAP men’s basketball game. The shadow cast over them by the “bigger bird” was gone in that very moment. Not only that, the tables had been turned. As the only team to successfully notch a win over Ateneo that season, suddenly, it was the Eagles’ turn to fear the Falcons.
As the Soaring Falcons stood in center court, waving at their crowd, celebrating the first time that the Adamson Hymn was be played first after a game against Ateneo, little did they know of the impending downward roller coaster ride that would ensue, starting with their Final Four series against FEU.
But for that one brief moment, on the tenth day of the ninth month of the eleventh year of the second millennium, the Soaring Falcons stood on top of the college basketball world, ranked number 2 in the standings, owners of the lone loss of the defending champions that season, and most importantly, rid of the losing streak held by Ateneo over them. On that day, it was a good day to be a Falcon.
All photos courtesy of Mark Lester Castillo of The Adamson Chronicle