On the Trail of Champions: Roller-Coaster

Fran Asuncion and the rest of the Blue Eaglets
are in a bind after losing 3 of their last 4 matches.
(image by Erwin Cabbab/Fabilioh.com)

Up and down we go.

After a promising start to the season where the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eaglets won 5 straight games after losing in overtime to the heavily-favored Zobel Junior Archers, the defending champions have dropped 3 of their last 4 outings.

It started with a freak loss to the UST Tiger Cubs to close out the first round. The Eaglets ended up with a 5-2 record that was good enough for a tie at 2nd place with the FEU-FERN Baby Tamaraws.

They opened the second round of hostilities against NU, whom they beat by 7 in their first meeting. The Bullpups ran the Eaglets out of the basketball court to the tune of a 76-53 count at the final buzzer. Ouch. Coupled with the Baby Tams’ upset of Zobel that same game day, coach Joe Silva’s wards dropped to 3rd in the standings.

Ateneo, however, was able to gain some measure of revenge as they squared up with the Cubs anew three days ago at the Filoil Flying V Arena. Our boys found their bearings and thoroughly thrashed last year’s co-Finalists, 63-42. At 6-3, they stayed glued to third behind the two green teams.

Anton Asistio was red-hot as Ateneo got back
at the UST Tiger Cubs last Saturday.
(image by Erwin Cabbab/Fabilioh.com)
And then today happened. The Loyola quintet’s opponents were the Green & Gold horned ones, whom they had soundly beaten in their second game of the tournament. But this time it was a different FEU troop that trudged onto the hardwood. The Tams had more swagger. There was a confident aura exuding from them, which was probably caused by their immaculate second round slate. The Eaglets would be in for a tough ride.

And indeed, after taking a 19-16 advantage at the end of the first quarter, things took a dive – a deep, deep dive.

The Baby Tamaraws of coach Michael Oliver leaned on great defense and hot shooting to outscore the Eaglets, 46-25, in the two middle periods. FEU forced one turnover after another as the Blue & White unraveled. In the end, Ateneo fell, 73-58, and this latest setback puts our boys in a precarious situation for a Final Four slot. The Bullpups and Baby Falcons are right at our heels and suffice to say that another loss at this stage, and with the competition this close, would be nothing short of devastating.

The Eaglets now stand at 6 wins and 4 defeats. Their remaining sked is as follows (all games are at the Blue Eagle Gym):
-       August 27, 2011 9am vs UE
-       August 30, 2011 3pm vs UPIS
-       September 3, 2011 3pm vs Adamson
-       September 10, 2011 11am vs De La Salle Zobel

Barring any monumental shifts in fortune, the Pages and Junior Maroons shouldn’t pose as serious threats, but the final two games will be key. It’s imperative we beat Adamson for the last ticket to the semifinal bus, and it’s just as important to beat the Greenies for a chance to improve our placing and, well, because it’s the Greenies (is there really any other more compelling reason?).

And what are things to look out for? I’m 110% sure the Eaglets coaching staff has pored through each game deeper than any dedicated fan could, but for the innocent and curious readers, then here are some tidbits to keep in mind.

The losses to NU and FEU seem to mirror each other in that what doomed the Eaglets in the former game were pretty much the same things that killed them in the latter. Those are two main things: atrocious shooting and inability to take good care of the ball. Ateneo shot 33% from the field against NU and 38% against FEU. We hit a total of only 3 triples out of 20 total attempts in those two games, too. How about turnovers? Oh man. 28 against NU and 29 versus FEU. That’s 57, compared to just a combined 30 from our foes in both those games.

Keep the ball and finish. We do those, and we’ll be in a position to win every single time. And I’m sure the Eaglets will be ready come Saturday.

Tomas Ramos is one of the seniors tapped to lead the team
back into the Final Four.
(image by Erwin Cabbab/Fabilioh.com)
Contrary to what happened in the first round, our losses to NU and FEU showed that our team can be badly beaten. In a way, it’s a not-so-bad thing that the beatings happened NOW, and not later. At least there’s still a lot of time for adjustments and realizations to kick in (as I’m sure they will). We lost a close one to Zobel in the season-opener and we were beaten at the buzzer by the Cubs, so the thought of getting blown out might have drifted from our fancied minds. Well, the thought became reality, and now the real growth and maturity should come in.

And there’s a lot of room for growth, not because the team is bad – oh no sir, the team is brimming with talent! It’s a relatively inexperienced bunch, though. The thing is only 7 out of the 15-man rotation are seniors. We have 6 juniors and 2 sophomores. You know what that reminds me? That reminds of the 2007 Blue Eaglets – the team where current Blue Eagle reserve big man Frank Golla was the captain. We had Juami Tiongson and JV Dumrique, who were juniors, Ael Banal, Al Bugarin and Tim Capacio as sophs, and a guy named Kiefer Ravena as a freshie. That was a young and talented squad that made it all the way to the Finals only to lose to Joshua Webb’s green-clad cohorts.

So will the same thing happen here? Maybe. Maybe not.

I’m supremely confident the Eaglets can find a way to will themselves to win. I know they will continue giving the Ateneo faithful reason to hold their heads high, even if, at the moment, we’re dizzied up by this uncomfortable roller-coaster ride.

One BIG Fight!

The Scores:

NU 76 – Atangan 22, Tansingco 16, Napa 11, Tendenilla 8, Rivero 8, Busa 6, Baliton 5, Subrabas 0, Lopena 0, Lapiz 0, Battad 0
AHS 53 – Ramos 10, Porter 10, Austria 8, Black 6, Capacio 4, Asistio 4, Asuncion 3, Gamboa 3, Vitangcol 2, Lim 2, Tenorio 1, Ravena 0, Ladaban 0, Puno 0
QS: 11-8, 39-20, 56-26, 76-53

AHS 63 – Asistio 19, Porter 17, Tenorio 6, Ravena 4, Asuncion 4, Austria 4, Ramos 3, Ladaban 2, Puno 2, Lim 2, Consunji 0, Capacio 0, Black 0, Vitangcol 0, Gamboa 0
UST 42 – Ilarde 13, Lo 8, Lazaro 7, Latoreno 6, Bahia 5, Soriano 2, Florentin 1, Ungria 0, Mayor 0, Cubilla 0, Almajeda 0, Pelias 0
QS: 19-13, 35-17, 49-31, 63-42

FEU 73 – Luz 21, Pingoy 20, You 10, Domingo JJ 10, San Jose 4, Hassan A. 3, Hassan J. 2, Delfinado 2, Aguilon 1, Domingo JS 0, Estacio 0
AHS 58 – Porter 18, Ramos 13, Asistio 7, Austria 6, Tenorio 6, Black 4, Gamboa 3, Ravena 1, Ladaban 0, Consunji 0, Capacio 0, Vitangcol 0, Puno 0, Lim 0
QS: 16-19, 42-35, 62-44, 73-58

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