The Ateneo Blue Eagles failed to get past the team that they can’t seem to beat since last season, the National University Bulldogs.
NU’s excellent defense was a given but their offense in this match caught everyone by surprise. Everything was simply falling for them. Layup? Check. Midrange jumper? Swoosh. Three-point shot? Bang!
The Bulldogs were able to gain momentum and stack up points early on, no thanks to the Blue Eagles’ sleeping defense. The score ballooned to 22-4 in favor of Coach Eric Altamirano’s squad with under three minutes left in the first frame. I told myself that if Ateneo could not change the tempo by this time, then it was game over for them. Sure, the Eagles have a knack for coming back from huge deficits, but this is NU we’re talking about – a team that only allows 74 points per 100 possessions with players who host block parties and stick to their opponents like glue.
Alfred Aroga had another monster performance on both sides of the court as he finished with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting, eleven rebounds, and EIGHT blocks – seven in the second quarter alone. In that stretch, Aroga locked the paint and swatted the ball away from any Atenean who dared force entry. Unfortunately for the Blue Eagles, they also could not connect from the outside. They only managed 19 perimeter points against NU’s 33.
Quarterly Score and Four Factors
Review of the Keys to the Game
FIGHT FOR EVERY POSSESSION
It’s interesting that Ateneo had the edge in terms of second chance and turnover points. These were all in vain though as they were not able to quicken the pace and increase the number of possessions, which they badly needed to be able to climb the mountain of lead that NU established.
START STRONG AND FINISH STRONGER
NU’s superb scoring in the first canto (79% field goal shooting) coupled with their consistent defense held off any attempts of the Blue Eagles to recover. The closest Ateneo got was at 55-60 when they made a run in the fourth quarter, courtesy of Ponso Gotladera‘s hard work inside the paint. However, the Bulldogs never gave them a chance to overtake.
In three of their last four outings, Ateneo only produced an average of 11 first quarter points while giving up 24. Playing catch up is draining, especially for a team like the Blue Eagles whose bench production is still unreliable (only 10 points in this game). Their starters carry majority of the load all the time.
KIEFER ISAAC RAVENA
As expected, it was another difficult day for Kiefer Ravena – eighteen points, 7-of-21 from the field (0-of-4 from downtown), and only four trips to the line. Javelona did not leave his side and contested his every shot. He also made Kiefer work hard defensively. The Phenom had to bleed for his seven dimes, amidst the Bulldogs’ efforts to intercept several of his passes.
If Ateneo ended up stealing this game, the storyline will probably be as simple as “PONSO GOTLADERA HAPPENED.” Gotladera’s eight straight markers with under eight minutes remaining would have been the turning point. He banged bodies with Aroga and made some impressive under-the-basket moves. It was also during this rally when the whole Ateneo community got on their feet and filled the coliseum with loud cheers to pump the team up. It might have distracted NU for a bit, but they were too in control of the match and focused on their system to allow the crowd to affect them.
The Blue Eagles have four more opponents to face in the elimination round: UST, UP, Adamson, and FEU. Sweeping the rest of the series is possible, but for goodness’ sake, they need to greatly improve their defensive game.
Featured image courtesy of Arvin Lim, UAAP Sports TV