On the Trail of Champions: Advanced Math

Fran Asuncion dives for the loose ball, consequently
helping the Ateneo Blue Eaglets defeat the FEU-FERN Baby Tamaraws
in Game 1 of their Final Four duel.
(image by Jamie Lihan/Imagine Nation)

If you see Fran Asuncion walking along the Ateneo de Manila High School’s EDSA Walk, you wouldn’t be faulted for paying him no mind. He sports faux-spikey hair, certainly doesn’t stand out in terms of height or heft, doesn’t exude the swagger of a typical jock, and, well, probably the most apparent differentiating factor he has is that he lugs around a thick book meant only for members of the Advanced Math class. You definitely wouldn’t be expected to make a double-take and think of him as a basketball player.

But he is a basketball player – one hell of a basketball player.

And here’s why.

For practically the whole season, the Ateneo Blue Eaglets’ offense has been anchored on its imposing frontline and dangerous snipers. And, for the most part, that has worked. Kris Porter and Tomas Ramos have both shone as the Eaglets’ pillars of power down low, while Anton Asistio, Lambert Tenorio and Kiefer Lim have all taken their turns torching the hoops from beyond the arc.

But if Ateneo wants to extend its Season 74 life in the juniors division, and have a shot at the four-peat, then it’s defense that will be key.

And that’s where Asuncion comes in.

Asuncion missed a big chunk of the 2nd round because of dengue, and though his impact can’t really be seen on the stat-sheet, it was felt on the floor. The Ateneans fared much worse in the 2nd round compared to their 5-2 record in their first 7 games (one of those losses was in overtime and the other one after a buzzer-beating three). One of the Eaglets’s three 2nd round losses was to the FEU-FERN Baby Tamaraws. Cebuano recruit Jerie Pingoy sizzled in that game and simply ran rings around the Ateneo defense, hitting threes, getting steals and making plays for his teammates.

That was a game Asuncion missed.

But no way he would miss this one (Ateneo fell on the short end of a twice-to-beat edge, needing to win twice over the Baby Tamaraws to advance to the finals). This time he was back 100% and fresh from helping upset the Zobel Junior Archers at then end of the elims. His task was to shadow Pingoy right from the tip, and he performed that task to the hilt. He stuck to the FEU star like glue, denying Pingoy easy possessions and visibly frustrating him to no end. Evidence? Pingoy was whistled for an offensive foul early in the game as he tried to create space in the face of Asuncion’s relentless defensive pressure. Pingoy knew he would have to bleed for his points this afternoon.

Asuncion hounded FEU star guard Jerie Pingoy to no end.
(image by Jamie Lihan/Imagine Nation)
Ateneo bled for its points too, as star forward, and RP-Youth mainstay, Ramos was saddled with early foul trouble. Other guys would have to step up lest Porter gets swarmed with double and triple-teams in every possession.

And this is where other guys, just as unheralded as Asuncion, but just as potent, courageously took it upon themselves to give the Baby Tams a heck of a fight.

Gabe Capacio and Jed Austria haven’t exactly been stellar this season, but given their pedigree one might expect otherwise. In fact, it can be argued that both players have missed more than their fair share of shots and made more than their fair share of lapses on both ends of the floor.

But not this day. This day they rose to the occasion.

The power forward pairing combined for 18 points on 7-of-11 FG shooting and grabbed a total of 11 rebounds. I reckon coach Joe Silva might not have missed Ramos too much after all.

He looks like Bacon Austria. He moves like Bacon Austria.
It must be Bacon Austria. Only it's not.
That's Jed, folks, Bacon's heir apparent.
(image by Jamie Lihan/Imagine Nation)
Capacio and Austria helped the Eaglets recover after falling behind 12-16 in the first quarter. They helped the Blue & White take the lead in the 2nd canto all the way to the half time break, 33-26.

Despite the leech-like D imposed on him, Pingoy still managed to pile up a dozen points at this juncture (you can already see “seniors-bound” written all over this kid). Clearly, Ateneo had to find a way to slow him down in the second half.

Again, enter Mr. Asuncion.

As opposed to his defensive assignment, Asuncion failed to put any points on the board so far in the game, but that changed real quick.

Known to jack up threes in his PRADA days, Asuncion did just that to open the third period, hitting back-to-back treys that deflated FEU and forced them to sue for time. He wasn’t done, though, as he scored on a transition lay-up and limited Pingoy to just 4 points in the whole quarter, helping the Loyola quintet build a 13-point cushion going into the final 10 minutes, 51-38.

Gabe Capacio came up big off the bench, filling in for the
foul-plagued Tomas Ramos .
(image by Tito Pavia/Fabilioh.com)
As expected, the Green & Gold mounted a rally built on Ateneo’s penchant for silly turnovers. FEU went on a 7-2 spurt (the lone blue basket from Capacio) to trim the deficit, 53-45. The Eaglets, however, restored the balance thanks to Porter making a reverse lay-up (his only points of the second half), and Asuncion stealing a pass off Pingoy and converting the fastbreak lay-up. 57-45, advantage Ateneo with 4:10 to go. Done deal, right?

Nope. The Baby Tams weren’t done yet. Behind Pingoy and Joshua Aguilon, FEU succeeded in cutting the gap to just five at 58-53 with about a minute left. Ateneo muffed its next possession, but Asuncion came up big again by collaring the offensive board in the waning moments. Asistio, who topscored with 14 markers, padded the lead with free throws. The endgame tally read 62-53, and the Eaglets lived to fight another day.

Anton Asistio led four Eaglets in double-digit
scoring with 14 points.
(image by Jamie Lihan/Imagine Nation)
Thanks to a guy you wouldn’t notice in a crowd. Thanks to a guy who takes Advance Math in the morning and then Advanced Lockdown Defense after dismissal.

One BIG Fight!

(Pingoy ended up with 19 points, but he did bleed for each and every one. He shot just 7-of-27 from the field, including 0-of-8 from downtown.)

AHS 62 – Asistio 14, Porter 10, Capacio 10, Asuncion 10, Austria 8, Gamboa 6, Ramos 2, Suarez 2, Ravena 0, Ladaban 0, Vitangcol 0, Puno 0, Lim 0, Tenorio 0
FEU-FERN 53 – Pingoy 19, Aguilon 15, Luz 5, You 4, Hassan J 2, Hassan A 2, Delfinado 2, San Jose 2, Palacio 2, Estrada 0, Domingo Js 0, Estacio 0
QS: 12-16, 33-26, 51-38, 62-53

Rubber match with the Baby Tamaraws is scheduled on Tuesday, 3:00pm at the Blue Eagle Gym! Go Eaglets!

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