Round one has been wrapped up for the Ateneo Blue Eagles and UST Growling Tigers. Blue Eagles ending its first round campaign on a high note, winning its first back-to-back of the season. While the Growling Tigers wasted a golden opportunity of grabbing the solo second place and allowed two other teams to catch up for a three-way tie.

The final score didn’t depict how the Blue Eagles massacred the Tigers in the opening quarter. The Tigers were limited to a season low first quarter production of six points and were forced to a whopping seven turnovers, ending the period at 6-19. In the second quarter, the Tigers were able to return the favor by limiting the Blue Eagles to only eight points while scoring 15 led by Aljon Mariano who shouldered more than half of their production.

The second half had become a game of runs. The UST Tigers were able to cut into the lead but couldn’t seem to break the three-point advantage of the Blue Eagles.  Ateneo was able to survive the last blistering run of the Tigers in the final minute of the game behind the huge defensive block by Kiefer Ravena on a three-point attempt of Eduardo Daquioag. The potential three-pointer could have possibly brought the lead to only one with 36 seconds remaining in the game. From then on the Tigers were forced to foul their opponents to stop the clock and take desperate threes. After the free throw splits by Nico Elorde and Christopher Newsome, Clark Bautista made a controversial three-point attempt that proved to be the last basket of the Tigers as Kevin Ferrer missed three three-point attempts to finally bow to the defending champion at 57-61.

Reviewing Keys to the Game

Perimeter Defense

The Tigers were able to keep in step with the Blue Eagle perimeter guys limiting a 70% healthy Ravena to only 13 points and making it hard for Newsome and Ryan Buenafe to come up with their regular numbers. Newsome and Buenafe were only able to score 10 and nine points respectively, a production below from their usual numbers of 14.3 and 13.0 points. The Tigers’ effort to limit the Blue Eagles top guns were put into waste as they turned the ball over a total of 18 times and allowed 14 points of TO.

Swarming Defense of the Tigers (Photo Credit: Kc Cruz, GMA Network)

Swarming Defense of the Tigers. (Photo Credit: Kc Cruz, GMA Network)

Frontline Domination

Ateneo exposed how to contain UST by collapsing at the post at the right time, preventing the backdoor play, and covering the passing lane. Among the frontline of the Tigers, only Aljon Mariano was able to score double digits, limiting Kevin Ferrer and Karim Abdul to only nine and six points, respectively. Without UST’s main gunner Jeric Teng and with the limited production of their frontline, snatching a win from the defending champions (with the 70% healthy Ravena) was unlikely, as shown by the outcome.

Aljon Mariano secures a rebound for the Tigers (Photo Credit: Rappler.com)

Aljon Mariano secures a rebound for the Tigers. (Photo Credit: Rappler.com)

Evidently, the Tigers’ frontline failed to muscle their way in and were only able to attack the rim 38.9% of the time, a far cry from their average of 47.7%. Aside from their failure to attack the basket, they also failed to defend their turf by allowing the Blue Eagles to attack the rim 43.9% of the time.

Better eFG

The Tigers were able to tally a better eFG than the Blue Eagles at 38.9% compared to 37.9%, but the problem is, this eFG is still lower than their average of 39.8%. This only means that the Tigers played below average. With their struggling frontline combined with a below average eFG, scoring becomes a lot harder for the Tigers. If UST wants to stay in the top four, they should figure out how to have a better eFG. As of now, they are one of the worst shooting teams in the league. UST and UP are the only teams averaging an eFG less than 40%.

Looking Forward

The first round has ended with the Growling Tigers settling in a three-way tie in second place. Considering that the Tigers missed the services of Jeric Teng for a solid four games, ending the first round at second spot is not that bad. With the two-week break and the expected return of Teng in the second round I am hoping that the Tigers would be able to become stronger and better.