The Games That Play Us: A Storm Coming

Jeric Teng points to the UST fans as he hit a dagger
three late in the game to cement UST's win.


What happened here? How can an Ateneo team, a four-peat champion team, build a 19-point bubble in the first half only to find itself down by 4 at end of the third quarter?

And to think the Eagles were dubbed a second-half team.

Defeated by the team that choked IN THE SECOND HALF against FEU in Week 1.

No, folks, you’re not in the twilight zone. The 30-11 shellacking the Katipunan five received in the third period really happened, and now the Blue & White’s drive for five hits an unexpected bump on the way to a titanic tussle with the mighty Bulldogs on Sunday.

But, wait. Again, please. What the hell happened here?!

The first half was a blur, with Ateneo running way ahead of the UST defense almost at will on every fast break opportunity. Kiefer Ravena and Nico Salva combined for 24 points on 9-of-14 FG shooting. Greg Slaughter and Justin Chua paired up for 5 blocks. Ryan Buenafe and Juami Tiongson had 10 assists put together. In short, it was well-oiled Ateneo basketball.

No UST player scored more than 7 points. The Tigers shot just 28% from the floor. They were whistled three times for shot-clock violation. They were outscored in transition, 16-2. They had less rebounds and assists. They seemingly had no chance.

And then the third quarter happened, or, more specifically, Aljon Mariano happened in the third quarter.

Mariano shot just 2-of-6 from the field in the first half, good for 6 points. This was UST’s leading scorer in the summer preseason. He was a versatile forward big enough to shoot over guys like Zags Gonzaga and shifty enough to get past guys like Oping Sumalinog. He was a match-up nightmare, and coach Norman Black knew it. One of the first things he said after beating Adamson last Sunday was devising a defensive scheme to limit Mariano’s production.

Scheme or no scheme, however, Mariano wouldn’t be denied. He played the entire third frame, shooting 4-of-8 from the field and a perfect 4-of-4 from the line. He scored 13 of his 21 points in this period, igniting the telling 27-5 run that spilled over to the fourth quarter. That run erased the 15-point halftime lead of Ateneo and effectively buried the Eagles in a squalor from which they would not recover.

One big factor was Greg Slaughter getting his third foul early in the third period. Because of this, the 7-footer sat down as Justin Chua and Frank Golla alternated at the slot. This was when Mariano struck the hardest. His daring drives, along with solid defensive stops and sloppy plays by the Loyola quintet, fueled the Black & Gold’s mighty comeback.

By the time Greg returned in the fourth, momentum had permanently swung, and Ateneo played catch-up the rest of the way, eventually coming up short.

In one preseason interview, coach Norman mentioned how UST was one of the teams he was really worried about. To him, the Tigers seemed very similar to last year’s edition of the Eagles – a team full of veterans eager to make a mark, a team with enough depth and experience to compete for the championship. The Tigers did seem like they’d live up to that billing for the first three quarters against FEU last Saturday, but in this game they played well beyond that billing by being energetic, composed, and a little lucky in the clutch.

Coach Pido Jarencio has got to be plenty excited. This big win will surely motivate the España crew to play their best against the Fighting Maroons on Saturday. Inspired is the only way to describe how they must be feeling now.

For the Eagles, it goes without saying that this is a tough pill to swallow. Nobody ever said the quest for a fifth straight crown would be easy, or that Ateneo would sweep, but it cannot be overstated enough how this loss was unexpected, especially after the fantastic first half.

As things turned out, however, fantasy quickly turned into frustration. This is exactly the kind of loss the Eagles did NOT need going into their duel with NU on Sunday, but it’s one they’ll live with. They’ll have to dig deep into their well of championship experience and draw strength lest they go down 1-2.

Can Ateneo recover? Can they actually put four good quarters together in a single game? The champs better batten down the hatches, because, as Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman put it so squarely, there’s a storm coming.

UST's Aljon Mariano led the Tigers' roaring comeback in the second half.

Ryan Buenafe and the Eagles falter and fall
on their knees headed into the NU game on Sunday.
Coach Norman's concerns about UST came to fore
in the upset loss.


UST 71 – Mariano 21, Teng 16, Abdul 14, Fortuna 11, Ferrer 4, Bautista 3, Lo 2, Pe 0, Daquioag 0, Afuang 0
ADMU 70 – Ravena 19, Salva 17, Slaughter 9, Tiongson 8, Buenafe 5, Sumalinog 4, Elorde 3, Chua 3, Golla 2, Gonzaga 0, Erram 0
QS: 12-27, 28-43, 58-54, 71-70
Notable Performers:
Aljon Mariano (UST) – 21pts, 13rebs, 2asts, 1stl
Nico Salva (AdMU) – 17pts, 8rebs, 1ast, 1blk
Juami Tiongson (AdMU) – 8pts, 9asts, 6rebs, 2stls, 1blk

*All images are by Juan Benjamin Janeo/
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