Looking back at my pregame article for this match, I said, “What a better way to score a revenge than depriving Ateneo Blue Eagles from having a crack at defending their crown?” Wow, it does feel sweet.
One of the UST supporters even compared it to the euphoria brought by Gilas win over South Korea. A bit exaggerated though I must admit, having the opportunity to finally seal the deal of ousting the defending champion comes with a lot of pride. We are talking here of breaking the 14 straight years Final Four appearances of Ateneo.
Dethroning the Ateneo Blue Eagles was not an easy feat. The UST Growling Tigers needed the monstrous performance of Karim Abdul in the first half, the steadiness of Sheak Sheriff at the point, the timely point production of Aljon Mariano, Kevin Ferrer, and Eduard Daquioag, the back-to-back three-point conversion of Clark Bautista in the final period and above all the cold-blooded clutch free throws of Jeric Teng in the dying seconds to shake off the relentless Ateneans
Even after UST established a large margin of as much as 18 points, Ateneo refused to give up and managed to come up with a number of furious rallies that pushed the game up for grab up to the last seconds. Luckily, the urge of the Tigers to extend their season prevailed, securing them a semi-finals seat by virtue of their 82-74 win over the Eagles.
Reviewing Keys of the Game
O! DEFENSA! (Defense)
UST set the tone on defense early on, limiting the Blue Eagles to only four points in the paint while converting 26 on their own. The interior defense of the Tigers was on point not allowing the Blue Eagles to penetrate. Aside from poor inside production Ateneo were also forced to shoot at a very low field goal percentage of 24.1% during the first half. All these contributed to a double-digit lead of UST at the end of the second quarter.
Come the third period, it was Ateneo’s turn to force a lot of missed shots from the Tigers resulting to an 18.8% field goal shooting. And this paved the way for the Ateneans to be back in the game and eventually take the driver’s seat. The key factor for this turn of events was the fact that Abdul shutdown – not a single basket nor a single free throw attempt and was limited to only two field goal attempts in this quarter.
In the final and deciding quarter, both teams displayed excellent defense but it was the inside presence of Abdul that provided the Tigers with enough breathing room to survive the furious rally of the Blue Eagles. Abdul tallied four of his five shot blocks in this quarter providing the Tigers with the much-needed stops in those crucial moments when the Blue Eagles where relentlessly sparkling a comeback.
P P-O P-O-W-E-R the Power! Wooh (Inside Presence)
After a disappointing performance in their round one encounter, Abdul redeemed himself and showed how dominating he can be inside the paint. He led all scorers with 25 points and contributed nine rebounds and five blocks. He was unstoppable inside the paint specially in the first half, Frank Gola and JP Erram could do nothing to pacify him. And this resulted to the highest point margin of the game at 18. Aside from scoring Abdul also led the Tigers in protecting their turf, just the mere presence of Abdul inside the paint affected the Ateneans and forces them to change their shot or at least made them think twice before taking a shot hence disrupting the flow of their offense.
Above all those numbers, a thing that doesn’t reflect in the stat sheet was his hustles. Even though he didn’t got a lot of rebounds as you want him to have, he gave UST at least three possessions by tenaciously jumping and tipping the ball to his teammates or to himself. This helped the Tigers to post a 17-4 advantage in second chance points.
One for UST (Free Throws)
As action packed this KO matched had been the game was decided at the line. Both teams shot decently with 76.2% FT% for UST and 73.9% for Ateneo. The big difference in this game was the FT shooting in the last three minutes of the game. UST went seven of eight at the line courtesy of two of two shooting by Abdul and five of six clutch free throws by Teng. Those five free throws conversion by Teng secured UST the win. On the other hand Ateneo gave away their golden chance to stripe off UST lead by settling for a three of six free throw conversions.
Beating the defending champion in a do or die game is such a huge accomplishment for the UST Growling Tigers. Hopefully this will boost their confidence and give them momentum that they need for their next knock out game against number seeded NU Bulldogs. Championship trophy is still within reach for the Tigers, the least that they can do at this point is to relax and be contented with the big win over Ateneo.