Ateneo vs. UP. The Battle of Katipunan. Who you got? Let’s not take any longer, as we answer key questions coming into Game 2.
While Ateneo won last Saturday, it didn’t really feel like they grabbed momentum from UP. True or False?
Eriko Dela Cruz: True. You can really see it social media, the Blue Eagles left a lot of hope in the Fighting Maroon faithful. Jun Manzo had his way slashing the defense to pieces. UP was firing on all cylinders on the long bomb. I mean, if Diego Dario can convert on a step-in three-pointer two feet away from the line, or Gelo Vito can shoot a three with a hand on his face, you know you’re hot.
Aljo Dolores: This might be true. Game 1 wasn’t exactly a knockout punch the Blue Eagles could have hoped for. If not for Thirdy Ravena’s near triple-double game and Matt Nieto’s 27-point explosion, Ateneo could have easily lost to UP. It’s still anybody’s ballgame at this point.
Pio Garcia: False. While UP had the momentum “sort of” in the third, it’s more of the Blue Eagles playing with food and UP having undeniable stroke of luck here and there. Hand in your face and still make the three? Gelo Vito suddenly looking like left-handed Dirk Nowitzki out there trying to will his team through three balls? Jun Manzo knocking down jackknife threes? Diego Dario nailing threes while heavily challenged? That looks more of lucky O against perfect D actually. Not that it’s a knock on them, but it’s just that the shots were falling for three quarters until the cat decided it had enough with the mouse.
Toby Pavon: True. Ateneo is a brick wall. Ateneo is a constant. Ateneo does not change its ways for anyone. When teams play Ateneo, they need to rise to the occasion or lose. UP, with all its momentum, needed a perfect game to stand a chance. Momentum can only get teams so far.
How can Ateneo defend the perimeter better, especially since UP kept close because of three-point shooting?
EDC: While I don’t think the trend will continue, we know Tab Baldwin will not leave things to chance. Switching and hedging on screens would be key. Push the initiator away from shooting range. This will force UP to set a pick from far away. This guarantees that the pop is at least a few steps away from range, or the roller travels far enough for the defense to cover the one driving.
AD: UP attempted 28 three-point shots and 35 two-pointers. If you’re Ateneo, you’d want that since UP is one of the best teams operating in the paint, but one of the worst from beyond the arc. It just so happened that UP’s threes kept on falling. Just a simple tightening of defense, staying in front of your man would probably suffice to stop the Fighting Maroons’ hot shooting from the three-point area.
PG: The defensive rotations were actually fine except for three to four instances. Generally, these are the shots you want UP to take, challenged homerun threes. The Blue Eagles are fine. They are letting UP take the shots their defense wants. It’s just that, again, challenged and all, the shots were falling.
TP: Don’t. Those were tough threes, and eventually shooting runs out especially when it’s the only source of points for a team, see 2017 WCF Game 7.
Only two players scored in double digits for Ateneo in Game 1; Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena. Who do you have potentially stepping up and helping their two main guys?EDC: Ange Kouame. The nerves will be gone once game 2 begins, and he will show everyone why he was in serious talks to become the UAAP MVP. His length and footwork are worth a few points, and making free throws will be very crucial.
AD: Ange Kouame will definitely try to bounce back from his disastrous (by his standards) game 1 performance. I think he’ll settle down after that opening game jitters, and play his usual self cone Wednesday.
PG: Ange Kouame. He was obviously the missing link on offense. It might’ve been the case of nerves as Bright was just used to the bright lights (pun unintended) of the Final Four having been to many while in Perpetual. Kouame was obviously bothered with the way Bright controlled the paint. He wasn’t able to get rebounds as the wider Akhuetie used his size advantage on the younger Ivorian. His box outs were close to perfect as it allowed UP multiple looks. It’s like his job was to just negate Kouame and push him out off the paint. It made Ange very tentative. Whenever he touched the ball, he was always looking to pass and not even trying to be a threat. It’s like he wanted the leather out of his hands for fear of making a mistake.
TP: Angelo Kouame. He looked shaky but as a rookie that’s understandable. He has been a driving force for Ateneo all season, it was fortunate that Matt stepped up to compensate for a nervous Angelo, but expect him to get back his bearings in game 2 and just bust the game wide open.
Juan Gomez de Liano, 17 points and all, was given all he could handle by the Ateneo wings. How could Coach Bo make life easier for his star player?
EDC: Screens, and plenty of it. Elevator screens, back picks, staggered screens. Juan is a triple threat machine, and can really use these screens to initiate the Fighting Maroon offense. Ateneo’s defense might make him bleed for points again, but hey at least his defender is dog tired from well timed picks from Bright Akhuetie, Jerson Prado, and Janjan Jaboneta.
AD: Coach Bo should make Juan not just a shot creator, but a play initiator. There’s no question that the younger GDL will attract a lot of defense. It’s now about creating the best possible shot not just for himself, but for his teammates. Despite his 17 points, Juan only had 1 assist and 36% field goal shooting in the opening game. He needs to let the offense flow and not take things upon himself.
PG: One, give the ball to Juan. Two, give the ball to Juan. Three, give the ball to Juan. It’s more of having Juan free rein in the offense instead of being a receiver on the elbows where he is easier to pin down on defense. He’s at his best with the ball in his hands as a ballscreen creator. James Harden was shifted to play point guard for a reason, Coach Bo.
TP: Reinforce offensive focuses of the other players. Are they supposed to score or help Juan score? Make it clear for the likes of Javi, Paul, Will and Bright. If they’re taking turns scoring it means Juan needs to conserve his energy for when it’s his turn to turn up the heat. If they’re all working to help Juan score then he needs to trust them to get into good scoring position and not try to do everything himself.
UP, or Ateneo, Game 2. Who you got?
EDC: Last season, Ateneo lost an early 21 point lead and failed to go for the jugular in game 2. With a practically intact team, the players know how it feels like if this season extends to a game 3. Ateneo will find its bearings and finish this in Araneta.
AD: I think the Fighting Maroons will be able to bounce back and force a deciding game on Saturday. UP all the way. Atin ‘to!
PG: Back to back baby.
TP: Ateneo. The numbers don’t bode well for UP at all. The only thing UP does better than Ateneo is run and score in transition. But their whole gameplan is not built to take advantage of their strength. Meanwhile Ateneo is a team that can score both in transition, thanks to the behemoth that is Thirdy, and from the half court set, because, when you have a national head coach drawing up the plays, you know they’re going to be good.