In the past four days, the Ateneo Blue Eagles played and won two games, maintaining their 1-game lead over 2nd place Far Eastern University (FEU). However, the wins against National University (NU) and Adamson University came in very different ways.
Last Thursday, Ateneo came out with a virtual repeat of its first game with NU, and pummeled the Bulldogs into submission with a 21-point victory which could have been a bigger blowout had Ateneo coach Norman Black kept his starters in until the very end. But, recognizing the double opportunity of resting his starters and letting his bench get some needed experience, Black pulled out his starters early in the fourth, letting such little-used players such as Vince Burke and Frank Golla play against NU’s first-stringers. While the Bulldogs came roaring back in the face of weak opposition, Ateneo’s third stringers didn’t completely buckle down, and managed to hold their own; this was shown by the fact that Ateneo’s starting lineup didn’t enter the game after being pulled out.
Some dubious records were either set or tied, as the Blue Eagles, led by a breakout performance by last year’s Rookie of the Year Ryan Buenafe, held the Bulldogs to only three points in the first quarter; ironically, it was the very first score of the game, a three-pointer by NU guard Joseph Hermosisima at the 9:41 mark. It would be the last score of NU for over ten minutes, and the Bulldogs ended the first half with a measly 10 points.
At one point, the Bulldogs were actually tied at 21 points … with Buenafe alone sometime in the third quarter. NU was never a threat in this game, playing sloppy basketball in the first half, and playing hard only when the game was out of reach.
It appears that the Eagles needed that much-needed pick-up game, because Sunday’s game with their fellow raptor school Adamson wasn’t a walk in the park.
The Blue Falcons struck early, racing to as many as 11 points to lead the game. The Eagles seemed to be shocked by the onslaught, but recovered enough to cut the lead down to 2 the end of the first half.
The second half seesawed most of the way, with neither team able to break away. Both teams played good defense and shot adequately, making it an exciting game to watch.
Ateneo finally took control with less than two minutes to go, as Adamson seemed to fall apart in the end game, while the Blue Eagles’ championship experience kicked in at just the right moment. Ateneo won its 25th straight win over Adamson, winning 61-52, an almost mirror image of its first win over Adamson this season.
Elsewhere in the UAAP, the La Salle Green Archers continue their downward spiral, losing its fifth straight game, and in real danger of missing the Final Four for the first time during coach Franz Pumaren’s tenure, the ban notwithstanding. Its chances no longer in its hands, La Salle must now win all of its three last games, against UST, FEU and NU, and hope that 3rd place UE loses its last three games, or 4th place UST loses two of its last three games in order to gain a playoff for the final slot. Should La Salle lose, or UE and UST continue to win, then that’s it for the Archers’ playoff hopes.
As for the Blue Eagles, only two games remain on their schedule, one being a rematch with the University of the Philippines’ Fighting Maroons, who gave the Ateneans their only loss of the season, and second-placer FEU Tamaraws, who lost to Ateneo in the first round, but have become more dangerous since then. The Blue Eagles are going to have to dig deep and prepare for these two teams in order for Ateneo to maintain the top spot in the UAAP basketball tournament.