It’s time to sink or swim, boys.
The last time I wrote about an Adamson vs. Ateneo game, I was making statements about how it’s a big game because of all the history and tormenting Ateneo has given Adamson the past seasons. This time, it’s a big game because Adamson needs it.
Here’s a team that, without its star player, beat a hyped up Adamson squad to a bloody pulp in the first round. Now, Adamson faces them again, but this time, Adamson is down in the dumps with a four-game losing streak while Ateneo is on a high after closing their first round strong and staving off a UP first half run. The tables have turned – Ateneo has Kiefer Ravena back, they look stronger than ever, Adamson is in the worst shape it has been since last season, all is not going well.
Keys to the Game
Get your act together
The Falcons made their biggest runs when they were hounding the opponent on defense and then moving the ball well on offense. Lately, the Falcons offense has turned stagnant, relying too much on a single pass to either catch-and-shoot or post up. We all know Jericho Cruz is a potent scorer, but even if he busts out with a 30-point game, they’re still 30 points shy of the league average 60 points a game. This means everyone has to contribute in scoring, a 15-point outing from Cabrera, Brondial or maybe Sewa then five points from everyone else would spell a world of wonder for the Falcons offense, but then again, it’s IF they find a way to do that at all.
Adamson’s offensive sets are rather complicated, but effective when executed properly. One of them gets either Cabrera a shot at the high post with an option of Trollano at the corner, another involves cutters into the lane while others are shows and screens that would confuse the heck out of any defense. The problem with these plays is that, if you run the play going through the motions, there aren’t a lot of attacking points mid-play; this means teams can just read the play, guess where the shot will be taken from and stick to guarding that player or spot. This makes their offense predictable. What they need to do is replicate what they were doing in the first round – finding the open man mid-play, passing the ball around, run the play with energy and an urgency that at any moment they will and can strike. The 21 turnovers they gave up against NU came from NU’s defense reading the set plays and just getting to the spots faster than the Falcons. Even with the supposed point guard vision of Iñigo on the floor, a passer can only do so much if the people he passes to aren’t moving.
On defense, the key to their success goes beyond good rotation, it’s actually their hedging that has helped them a lot in the first round. Apart from simply switching on shooters, a lot of the stops they got came from the giant presence of Sewa’s huge frame blocking the paint and also the help they give one another on drives. Remember those Brondial blocks against NU? Exactly. Outside defender leads Parks toward the drive, Parks pulls up for the leaner, Brondial swats it away.
In the second round against NU, it was all, going through the motions defense, rotate on him, switch on that, everyone tried to take their assignments on their own, thus allowing Parks to go crazy scoring on them while Mbe dominated the paint. Against La Salle, the only times they contained AVO was when Brondial managed to read AVO’s post move and whenever help came early forcing the lean green giant to get rid of the ball as quickly as he could lest he throw it away never to be seen again.
Take away the phenomenomenomenomenomenomenomenom…
Kiefer Ravena is back for Ateneo and he’s at 100% – that’s an automatic 15 points for Ateneo on his own shot creation. The Falcons have to remember how they welcomed Ravena to the big league two years ago and hold him to that production again. Why so important to stop Ravena? Just like Parks, Ravena can start runs for his team as well as kill the Falcons’ own runs, stopping him on defense will be like grabbing onto a boxer’s right arm, he can still hurt you but he’s going to have to switch up his game plan. It’s important also to note that Ravena passes, thus randomly collapsing on him won’t do. There will be a constant struggle to stop him from posting up (because god knows Adamson sucks at defending guards who post them up, just look at how Jeron Teng, Terrence Romeo and Bobby Ray Parks Jr. posted them up). An outing where Ravena only has five points and one assist would be nice, but as long as he doesn’t score on and on and on again, that should be fine.
Douse the fire
It will be a game of runs. Adamson, when they get on a run, is hard to stop. Same can be said about Ateneo. What Adamson has the advantage in is that they have Sewa and Brondial, who can grind out the offense one way or another. Coach Leo has always had flak for not sporting a faster-paced offense for the Falcons, and with good reason. If you check the roster, among their guards, only Cruz and maybe to some extent Julkipli can finish at the rim in a fast break situation every time. The rest are spot up shooters like Petilos, Cabrera, Trollano and again to some extent, Agustin. So with playmakers like Monteclaro and Iñigo matched with cutters and slashers like Rios, Abrigo and Cabigas complemented by big men Brondial and Sewa, it’s easy to see why a slower-paced game would do the Falcons a lot more good.
This means getting defensive stops, setting up the offense and playing half court basketball. This also means Sewa and Brondial have to focus on getting the defensive rebound to prevent second chances for Ateneo. If the pace is slower, that means the two bigs along with the back court can concentrate about getting the defensive board instead of trying to leak out for the fast break. Yes, Cruz is the Falcons’ best man on the open court, but they play their best whenever he gets at least five rebounds in the game.
Stay away from the line!
If you don’t want to fix your freethrows, fine. But please, don’t try to run plays only to get bailed out by a foul 30 times in the game and only make half of the free throws. In the past games, teams have learned that sending Falcons to the line is not a bad thing at all, even in the worst situations – even from the three-point line, even on the jumpshot. They have shot so poorly in the first two games of the second round I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Bo’s game plan turns to randomly fouling the Falcons.
The same goes for the other end as well. They can’t keep sending Ateneo to the line either, because they’re not as bad a free throw shooting team.
Play with pride
I remember back in 2011 when Adamson was ending Ateneo’s 13-game win-streak, a male cheerleader was rousing an evidently winded Ateneo crowd saying, “Ano ba kayo!? Ba’t ang tatahimik ninyo!? We are the Ateneo Blue Eagles, two-time defending champions! We do not admit defeat so easily!” or something to that effect. The Falcons have yet to win any tournament, none of their players have been UAAP champion or have tasted a championship after joining the Falcons. That doesn’t mean they should just lay down and die. There has to be a sense of pride among players that even if they have never been champions in the collegiate leagues, they are rightful contenders to the crown and all who say otherwise will have to prove it on the court.
No, this isn’t really stat-related, but it’s an attitude factor that will eventually play big down the road.
There is no tomorrow for Adamson’s championship hopes if they lose. The lowest record a champion has had coming into the final four is 6-6 but that was on a season sans La Salle. At this point, sweeping their remaining games still gets them a long shot of a chance in making the Final Four, losing this game will mean it’ll take a miracle.
Start strong and finish strong, if they can jump Ateneo and at least go blow for blow with them at the end of the game, their hopes will stay alive. Anything less means, next week, they’ll be planning for Season 77 early.