It’s difficult to guess what Adamson’s Roider Cabrera was thinking during the last few seconds of the Adamson-Ateneo game. Whether he was intending to pass it to a teammate, or he was heaving it in the hopes of a last second shot, is anybody’s guess. Either way, Cabrera’s awkward toss out of bounds was an anticlimactic end to a hard-fought game, which Ateneo won by the skin of its teeth, 55-52.
It was clear that two main factors were in play for yesterday’s game. One, the winner would gain solo control of second place, and, two, had Adamson won, it would’ve broken a 13-year drought against its fellow raptor school, a 26-game skid dating back from 1997. With those two factors in mind, both teams girded themselves for a bruising battle.
And a bruising battle it was.
Both teams played excellent inside defense, making it difficult to impossible for either team to score from the inside. While the first quarter ended with Ateneo leading, 16-10, the second quarter saw such tight defense that both teams were often forced into making three-point shots, many of which never found the mark. The first half ended, 22-21, in favor of Ateneo.
The second half started with the ejection of Ateneo’s Edwin “Jumbo” Escueta, for apparently wearing the wrong pair of shorts. Escueta’s shorts lacked a patch, the Philippine flag shaped into an “A” form. In the past, such an infraction could have resulted in a forfeit, as well as a protest, but since the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) had changed its rules, the team with the infraction was assessed with a technical foul, meaning two free throws, and the ejection of the player; also, such an infraction could not be protested anymore. Escueta dejectedly left the court, leaving a big hole in Ateneo’s big man rotation.
It might have been the spark, though, to ignite the Blue Eagles’ motivation, as, during the third quarter, Blue Eagle Ryan Buenafe shone, as he muscled his way through, again and again, and Nico Salva came in with some clutch shots to put the Blue Eagles up on top by the end of the quarter, 41-34.
Still, the Falcons would not be dismissed so easily, and managed to catch up with Ateneo in the fourth quarter, and even claim the lead going into the last minute of the game. Coach Leo Austria’s boys probably started seeing that long losing streak to Ateneo coming to an end.
However, it was not to be. Nico Salva got two points putting in a rather awkward hook shot to regain the lead, and Eman Monfort shot two foul shots to push the lead up to three, with about 13 seconds remaining. Still, there was hope for Adamson to send the game into overtime, since Coach Austria fielded all of his players who could shoot a three.
In spite of that, Adamson could not capitalize, as their main gunner Lester Alvarez missed a three, and, after Monfort missed both free throws, Cabrera tossed off what could be a hotly-debated move in Adamson, giving Ateneo the slim victory.
With the win, Ateneo now moves into solo second, a half game behind Far Eastern University, which got ambushed by a desperate La Salle squad the day before. Adamson has solo third, a half game ahead of La Salle, as well as a continuation of the long drought against Ateneo. It’s still possible, though, for both teams to meet in the Final Four, where Adamson can try their luck once more to end the drought.
In other games, National University kept its slim Final Four hopes alive at the expense of a gritty University of the East team, winning by a 1-point margin, 69-68, although that score is deceptive, as it came courtesy of a last-second three-pointer by Warrior Raffy Reyes. The University of the Philippines continued its disappointing and frustrating winless season, dropping a close game to the Tigers of Sto. Tomas. The win keeps alive the Tigers' hopes of making the Final Four, although they will have to win all their remaining games, and pray that fourth-placer La Salle loses all of theirs. It'll be a wild ride for just about everybody, except UP, going into the final two weeks of the elimination round.