View from the Enemy: UST Growling Tigers

This is it, folks. We’re at the end of the road – a long, 2 month, 13 game road. No one believed we could make it this far. Some of us, despite our best efforts, wonder whether they were right – is the glory days of the Ateneo Men’s Basketball Team done?

Five years of domination, Five championships, a feat surpassed only by one (and from what I understand, it’s on a mere technicality. I think we’re the first school to have five straight and solo championships.)

That question – one month ago seemed like a statement more than anything – is still wide open thanks to the second wind the Eagles got from their returning (albeit injured but still persevering) King Eagle, Kiefer Isaac Ravena. Started 0-3, 7-3 since then with a five game winning streak sprinkled somewhere in there.

It all comes down to this – we win, we get a shot – a less than one in four chance – at the coveted sixth straight championship. We lose and we bow down, conceding the throne to another school.

It’s rather fitting that the team we fought for a championship last year would be the team we’d be fighting against for that final spot in the final dance. Two finalists now holding on to whatever pride they have from last season, juking and battling it out in a gladiator style match.

Do or Die.

It’s also kind of weird that both these teams look similar on paper, but could not be more different. Check this out:

Four Factor Difference Ateneo UST
Point Differential 3.4 points per 100 3 points per 100
Effective Field Goal Percentage 0.9 percent -0.5 percent
Offensive Rebounding Percentage 0.5 percent -0.6 percent

Keys to the Game

Free Throws

Yes, both teams are almost even at the rebounding battle (Ateneo, surprisingly, being better than UST). The key difference here is that while Ateneo’s offensive rebounds mostly come off long misses, from the numerous three point attempts they hoist each game, UST comes from the inside – jostling among the muscle and sweating for position inside. It’s one of the reasons why UST is among the best at scoring off offensive rebounds – third best, scoring, on average, around 10 points off 2nd chance opportunities.

Another thing – UST likes to attack the paint. Around 48.6 percent of their shots come near the rim – right around Ateneo’s season average of the percentage of shots allowed near the paint, 47.3 percent if you wanted the exact figure. When they set Mariano up in the high post, or Abdul on the low block, or just Ferrer occupying a vacuum on the court, maybe Daquioag just charging in Crash style, the point is – UST loves contact. They crave for it. They yearn for it.

It’s no surprise they take (and make) a lot of free throws. They attempt the most free throws each game and they make them at the second best rate. Put those two together and they have the highest free throw rating, by far, in the league. If you plan on taking out UST’s offensive attack, you start by defending their inside attack – which isn’t so hard to do considering they have spacing issues all around. The next step is to stop them from getting rebounds. The last step is that when you don’t stop them from getting rebounds, you better make sure your arms are pointing to the sky and you jump vertically because they’ll lean and they’ll scowl and they’ll scratch, just like their mascot. And they’ll get calls when you make one mistake, especially on rebounds – getting caught out of position, putting your hand down, swiping.


Besides free throw shooting, one key area where the Tigers are good at is – getting out on the break. They are the third most efficient team at scoring on the break (1.49 points per fastbreak attempt) and they attack the break at an above average rate (7 fastbreak attempts per game). Volume and Efficiency, always the best way to go.

And Ateneo must punish UST, one way or another, for being a team that likes to leak out on the break – either we punish them by rebounding our own misses or we close out their fast break attack, it doesn’t matter which one. We punish them.

The good thing: It’s possible to do both (despite the widely accepted statement that offensive rebounding and transition defense is inversely related, there are cases where it is possible, as Zach Lowe brilliantly writes here. I suggest you read it).

The bad thing – we aren’t nearly as equipped to do so. The first thing you’ll notice in that article I linked is this – for a team to be able to execute both, they need to have strong, athletic, rebounding wings and a dominant rebounding front court. We have one (a hobbled Ravena, an explicitly athletic Newsome and Pessumal, who’s more athletic than he shows). We don’t have the other (Golla, Buenafe and Tolentino – who are  more attuned to defensive rebounds). We do have Erram, who’s injured.

Which brings me back to the beginning – I don’t care which one but make them punish.

Personally, I think their best bet is to stop UST’s fastbreak attack. They have the quick and smart guards to do it and their system is actually geared that way (usually with two safety players, one on the other side of the court, the other at mid court and just one or two players in the paint, as compared to three or more for the other team).

We are the one of the best teams at defending the break, both in volume (second lowest fastbreak attempts) and efficiency (second lowest fastbreak point/attempt ratio).

Start Each Half, Especially the Second Half, with Urgency

Here is a quarter per quarter breakdown of the wins and losses of Ateneo:

Points Scored First Quarter Second Quarter Third Quarter Fourth Quarter
In Wins 18.3 17.3 21.7 16.3
In Losses 15.7 15.5 15.5 18.3

Points Allowed First Quarter Second Quarter Third Quarter Fourth Quarter
In Wins 14.0 13.8 13.8 21.3
In Losses 15.8 16.4 18.6 17.8

As you can see, in our wins, we outscored the opponent in but one quarter (the fourth, right around the time when our bench plays a lot minutes before the starters finish them off). We also started each half strong (first quarter differential = 4.3 points, third quarter differential = 7.8 (!) points).

In fact, in our seven wins, we won the third quarter in all seven of them (and entered the final salva with a sizeable margin, except for the game against UE last September 8).

The first quarter doesn’t matter as much as the third (we make a lot of second quarter runs when our first quarter goes badly).

So, the Eagles need to get out of the bunker ready to fight.

Monty Williams, Pelicans head coach (YES, YOU ARE PROBABLY LAUGHING RIGHT NOW), had this to say to the then-Hornets, before a crucial Game 1 victory over the Lakers:

Be strong and courageous . . . we’re not going to back away from that.

– Monty Williams

This is not the time to be afraid. Stop thinking about the what this game means to the six-peat, what this game means for Tiongson, Buenafe and Golla, what this game means for Ravena (as a the “King” Eagle), what this game means for the Ateneo community.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." - Joshua 1:9 (Photo Credit: Philip Sison)

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
– Joshua 1:9 (Photo Credit: Philip Sison)

I can vote with confidence that Ateneo will win this one.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

-Joshua 1:9