The NU Bulldogs‘ curse began when the five-year UAAP domination of the Ateneo Blue Eagles ended two years ago. All of a sudden, NU turned into a mountain they can’t climb, a heavy weight they can’t lift, a math problem they can’t solve.
BUT NOT ANYMORE.
The victory was not handed to them on a silver platter. It was a difficult and exhausting double-overtime journey. NU almost reached the finish line, and all arrows were pointing to an extension of their six-game win streak over Ateneo.
But Kiefer Ravena would have none of it.
All those talks last season of Kiefer struggling all game long, but turning Super Saiyan and shooting like a mad man come crunch time? Continue the conversations, ladies and gentlemen. His Royal Clutchness is back in the cruel business of making you believe you’re going to win, only to take it away from you in the dying seconds.
The defending champs are still winless.
This game was supposedly NU’s chance to turn around a rough start to their title defense. They picked up right where they left off as Alfred Aroga opened the match with a block, reminiscent of how they eliminated Ateneo last season. The Cameroonian also owned the paint on the other end, with the blue side struggling to push him away from the basket. He tallied 14 points but foul trouble limited him to only 24 minutes. He was whistled for his fifth foul with 18 seconds left in regulation, and his absence in the extra periods was a huge factor for their loss.
The Bulldogs managed to slow down the pace to their advantage. With their tight defense, they forced the Blue Eagles to convert just 30.1 percent of their field goals. Ateneo sizzled from downtown in their previous game, but this time, they only drained TWO of their 28 (!!!) attempts. That’s… horrible.
Despite that, the defending champs still fell into that dreaded 0-3 hole.
The King (Eagle) Slayer’s job is a tough one.
Pao Javelona is that annoying kid who won’t get out of your way no matter how much you shrug him off. It’s amazing how disciplined he was all throughout, playing good ol’ honest D on Kiefer and challenging his every move, only to slip in the most crucial moments.
“Ang kulit mo, kanina ka pa! Heto’ng sa ‘yo!” – Kiefer probably, as he stepped back and swooshed that glorious game-tying triple.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the Blue Mamba blew by Javelona and two more defenders to force another extension. NO BIG DEAL.
Well, we can’t fault Javelona for trying. If there’s anything to blame, it’s Kiefer’s guts.
Chibueze Ikeh captured the hearts of Ateneo fans.
Chibueze Ikeh has been criticized for his poor showing on offense – botching passes and not hitting the target. Coming into this match, he missed all six of his awkward shot attempts. Third game’s the charm for the big man as he silenced the haters with his double-double of 14 points and 17 rebounds. While it’s definitely Kiefer’s heroics that bought them time to make up for their mistakes in regulation, it was their Nigerian reinforcement’s hardwork on the glass and his crucial free throws that kept them afloat towards the end.
Ateneo grabbed 32 offensive rebounds (49.2 percent of all available offensive boards), and that’s mostly thanks to Ikeh. His 14 offensive rebounds surpassed the whole NU squad who only had 13. Ikeh also had the most decent percentage from the charity stripe (8-of-13), to think that several of his free throws were awarded in OT and therefore pressure-packed. The team trooped to the line 43 (!!!) times, but they only claimed 22 freebies, while NU was 12-of-16.
The Blue and White fans chanted Ikeh’s name down the stretch, and deservingly so.
The #FreeArvinTolentino movement is starting to get heard.
There’s an ongoing “petition” on Twitter to free Arvin Tolentino from being tied on the bench. I’m pretty sure the Arvinatics were happy to see him on the court for 20 minutes, a leap from his average of four minutes in the previous two outings. Last year’s Rookie of the Year finished with six points, five rebounds, and hopefully, a boost of confidence. We’re not sure though if his freedom was given only because Gwyne Capacio was sick and unable to play.
With that said, I think the #FreeArvinTolentino club is still accepting members. Care to sign up?
We’re running out of words to describe The Phenom.
There are many things that got lost in post-game discussions like Jerie Pingoy’s defense on Gelo Alolino and his beautiful up-and-under move against Aroga, Hubert Cani’s steal that led to the highlight-worthy triple, John Apacible’s six points in eight minutes, and on the other side, Alolino’s aggressive efforts to single-handedly carry his team in OT. Just because ultimately, the exciting twist in this Ateneo-NU matchup can be attributed to Kiefer and his insane ability to take charge whenever his team is down and the game is on the line.
Five seconds remaining on the clock? Don’t worry, it’s Phenom time.