Monday, September 18, 2006

Ateneo in the Finals

(8...)

Yesterday's Final Four game between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the Adamson Blue Falcons had all the makings of a classic match-up. Both teams were relatively evenly matched, as evidenced by the two one-point victories by Ateneo, both won in the closing minutes. In addition, Adamson had a golden opportunity to end nine years of frustrating losses to their fellow raptor team, an 18-game losing streak. Finally, both teams featured MVP candidates: the Eagles with streaky JC Intal, and the Falcons with burly Ken Bono.

The game started out with the Falcons coming out with guns blazing, erecting an early 11-4 lead, which the Eagles quickly erased. The game seesawed back and forth between the two rivals, neither side gaining any headway. For every Ateneo basket, Adamson matched each one.

Ateneo did have some problem with the officiating, with Ateneo's Rabeh Al-Hussaini drawing a technical foul for protesting a loose ball foul; this gave him a total of four fouls before the half, reducing his effectivity for the rest of the game. Ateneo mentor Norman Black was similarly livid, drawing a technical himself for his loud protests.

At the same time, Adamson made sure it was a physical game, elbowing and jostling for every rebound. It got to the point that both teams were given technicals at the start of the second half as a warning against too much physical play.

During the second half, it was more of the same. Each team drawing out the best from its members, each side never giving up. Both MVP candidates shone through in the second half, although I think Bono had a better game, displaying surprising outside shooting accuracy by making three straight three-point bombs; he ended up with 33 points.

In the end, it boiled down to the last minute. The crucial play was a miscue by Adamson guard Polayapoy with Ateneo leading 72-70 with less than a minute to go. Polayapoy held on to the ball way too long, and, when he passed it, it was intercepted by an Ateneo player (can't remember who), who brought it back to make the score 74-70.

But Adamson wasn't beaten yet. Bono completed a three-point play to close the gap to one point. But Ateneo was able to push the lead back up to three, with 1.9 seconds to go. That sealed the Falcons' fate.

It was a well-played game on both sides, but I'm happy that Ateneo didn't have to go to a second game. That way, the players get to rest while they await the results of Thursday's match between UST and UE, as third-seeded UST managed to force a rubber match by beating UE, 79-75. The finals begin on Sunday, and it's probably going to be a great one.

In the junior division, FEU beat Adamson, 76-66, for the right to face the Blue Eaglets in the finals, while in the women's division, FEU dethroned champion Ateneo, 46-44, and will face UST, which won against UP, 72-68.

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