The Games That Play Us: Two Old Friends

Juami Tiongson celebrates after making a key basket
late in the fourth quarter.
(image by Philip Sison/

Some things are just meant to be, even if not a lot of people see them coming.

Before the season started, a lot of people carried very different outlooks for the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the UST Growling Tigers. A good number of people expected Ateneo to renew what seemed to be its annual role as title favorites, while a good number of observers dismissed UST to be fringe Final Four contenders.

One big contention for that underwhelming prognosis for the Tigers was the absence of España’s best attempt at an Energizer Bunny – Chris Camus. Camus was a beast last year. He did everything on both ends of the floor, holding the team together in many of its dire moments.

People weren’t convinced that the return of the relatively unheralded Aljon Mariano would be enough to fill the Camus-shaped hole. Mariano, after all, wasn’t exactly a blue-chip recruit out of high school in San Beda. Heck, he didn’t even play in the Red Cubs’ NCAA team. He was a stalwart of Beda’s PRADA team, which tangled with lesser-known programs and the Team Bs of many UAAP and NCAA schools.

It wasn’t surprising, then, that Mariano played sparingly in his first year with UST. He averaged just 4 minutes of play in 2009, when he played behind the terrific troika of Dylan Ababou, Allein Maliksi, and Khasim Mirza. In 2010, he was given more responsibility. Mariano played nearly 20 minutes per game, but his numbers (7.7ppg and 3.1rpg) didn’t exactly put fear in UST’s foes. And then he sat out last season due to injury.

For all intents and purposes, Mariano was a forgotten man.

Fifteen games into Season 75, however, things have turned around in a big way. The former Red Cub plays nearly 30 minutes per outing, norming 13.3ppg, 7.1rpg, and 2.1apg while hitting 35% of his threes.

Chris Camus who?

Now Mariano will get to strut his stuff on the biggest stage of college basketball (c’mon, admit it), and he can thank his frontcourt partner, Kevin Ferrer, for it.

Kevin Ferrer fired in 17 points to lead all scorers as
the Growling Tigers returned to the Finals.
(image by Jenzine Alcantara/

When Ferrer came up to the Seniors division last year, he was a regular in the conversation for Rookie-of-the-Year opposite Kiefer Ravena, and deservingly so. Ferrer was a versatile swingman. At 6’4, he had the length to guard most UAAP big men, but he also possessed speed, shooting, and handles that were uncommon for a Pinoy his size. He had his moments in Season 74, but, ultimately, it was Ravena who was the darling of everyone.

Now, though, I’m quite certain Ferrer is the darling of the Tomasinos.

Against NU, Ferrer shot a flawless 6-of-6 from the field in the first half. He scored 15 of his game-high 17 markers in the first 20 minutes of the game to help UST hold on to a slim lead. He would eventually yield to the law of percentages in the second half, but his defense helped hold top dog Ray Parks to a pedestrian 12-point output on 4-of-12 shooting.

Mariano, too, played well. He contributed 14 points (10 from the line), 7 rebounds, and 4 assists in a scintillating show of aggression. Coach Pido Jarencio’s three-headed frontline attack was completed by Karim Abdul’s 15 markers, 8 boards, 2 dimes, and 2 swipes.

Suddenly, in defiance of preseason predictions, and after four seasons of outside looking in, UST is back in the UAAP Finals.

But that’s not even the best bit. The best bit is they’ll be squaring off against the last team they beat in the Finals, the team whose 19-point lead they erased en route to an inspiring victory, the team against whom they are the perfect contrapelo.

The team tagged to bookend a dynasty with a fifth straight title (unprecedented in the Final Four era). The team reeling from a myriad of off-court drama. The defending champs.

The Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Up until last week, Ateneo practically breezed through the competition. Yes, the losses to UST in the first round and UE in the second round stung, but by-and-large the Eagles were the obvious favorites to win the Season 75 crown. Only a fortuitous disaster would be able to derail their cause.

And then Ateneo’s well-known patron, Manny Pangilinan, decided to totally cut ties with the university. The man who had been so visible in the Eagles’ campaigns, so supportive of the Eagles’ exploits, so relentless in his pursuit to make the Eagles the best program the country has ever seen, left.

How’s that for a fortuitous disaster? (oh, and JP Erram isn’t coming back for the better part of a year, too)

This “development,” coupled with the Eagles’ long lay-off, had a lot of Ateneo alumni concerned about whether they would play true to form against a resurgent De La Salle Green Archers team in the Final Four. The Greenies, after all, had to go through the wringer, beating Adamson and then FEU, just to get here. The Taft boys were pumped, were motivated, were hungry. It also helped that their coach believed they were peaking at the right time. It made sense that they’d make life tough for Ateneo.

And they did.

In contrast to their first two contests against DLSU, the Blues didn’t start strong. Prior to this encounter, Ateneo had outscored La Salle, 46-18, in two first periods (July 28 and Sept. 1). In this game, though, things were much tighter.

In the first half alone, there were seven deadlocks already. Despite both Nico Salva and Kiefer Ravena scoring in double-figures, the Eagles couldn’t shake off the Archers. Greg Slaughter seemed to have a rare off-day, and they weren’t hitting their free throws. The league’s best offense (Ateneo) was visibly stifled by the league’s best defense (La Salle).

At this point, most of the Blue & White faithful probably thought fortunes would change after half time. Ateneo was known as a third-quarter team. It was common to see them do their damage here and cruise to a win.

Well, fortunes did change for the Eagles, but for the worse.

The Loyola five shot just 11.8% from the floor in the third period. They turned the ball over four times. They were outrebounded, 17-9. DLSU had more assists, 8-2. They allowed the Archers to shoot 9 times from the stripe (La Salle made 6). Yutien Andrada carried the fight for the Greenies here, scoring 7 points by repeating ONE MOVE three times – the undergoal reverse lay-up. The Archers turned a 5-point deficit into an 11-point bubble early in the final frame.

Another fortuitous disaster.

During La Salle’s major second half run, however, one Atenean was quietly biding his time on the bench, saving his energy in preparation for what he hoped would be a whirlwind of a wind-up.

When DLSU erected their big lead, Kiefer Ravena was resting. He was riding the pine. He saw his teammates flounder in the face of a determined emerald stand. He could only look on as the twice-to-beat edge they had worked so hard to earn was seemingly thinning out.

So, as he has done so many times for his alma mater, Ravena took it upon himself to will the champs back in the thick of the fight.

Kiefer Ravena showed why he's such a highly-regarded
player by saving Ateneo from the jaws of an upset.
(image by Philip Sison/

The difference between the third and fourth stanzas was night and day, and in Ateneo’s big finish Ravena shone the brightest. The Katipunan quintet outscored DLSU, 28-16, in the last ten minutes, with the Phenom directly involved in all but 3 of those points (three free throws by Ryan Buenafe). Ravena scored 16 points on the strength of three treys and 5 freebies, but he also dished out 4 assists, helping Slaughter get on the scoreboard in the process.

The bottom-line is, Kiefer won the game for Ateneo. He willed the Eagles back into the Finals. (no, we will NOT talk about that dumb unsportsmanlike call and that equally abhorrent non-call)

Consequently, this means Ateneo, and Coach Norman Black especially, can now exorcise the demons of ’06.

Ah, 2006. That was a wonderful year, if you’re from UST. If you’re from Ateneo, it was the one that got away.

So here we are. Ateneo-UST again. Two old friends meet again, wearing older faces.

Again, the Growling Tigers look to finish their Cinderella story at the expense of Ateneo.

On the other hand, the Blue Eagles are hoping that, maybe this time, they’ll finally get the job done. Maybe this time, they’ll make history. Maybe this time, it will be their time.


UST 63 - Ferrer 17, Abdul 15, Mariano 14, Fortuna 8, Teng 6, Vigil 3, Pe 0, Lo 0, Bautista 0, Afuang 0
NU 57 - Javillonar 15, Parks 12, Alolino 8, Villamor 6, Betayene 5, Mbe 4, Khobuntin 3, Rono 2, de Guzman 2, Singh 0, Neypes 0, Labing-isa 0.
QS: 17-18, 38-34, 56-50, 63-57

AdMU 66 - Ravena 28, Salva12, Buenafe 10, Tiongson 5, Slaughter 4, Chua 4, Sumalinog 3, Pessumal 0, Gonzaga 0,, Golla 0, Elorde 0.
DLSU 63 - Andrada 17, Vosotros 14, Teng 12, N. Torres 6, T. Torres 5, Tampus 4, Van Opstal 3, Mendoza 2, Webb 0, Revilla 0.
QS: 14-12, 31-26, 38-47, 66-63

Ray Parks struggled in his first appearance in
the UAAP Final Four.
(image from

The España faithful rejoice as they took care
of business against the NU Bulldogs.
(image by Jenzine Alcantara/

Ryan Buenafe pumps his jersey after hitting the
go-ahead triple in the dying minutes.
(image by Philip Sison/

Joshua Webb seeks consolation from teammate
Papot Paredes in his last game in Green & White.
(image by Leslie Sy/

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6 Comment

"Ah, 2006. That was a wonderful year, if you’re from UST. If you’re from Ateneo, it was the one that got away.

So here we are. Ateneo-UST again. Two old friends meet again, wearing older faces." - the one that got away? Two old friends meet again, wearing older faces? Seriously? Chickflick and cheesy music reference? For a sports article? Were you crying while writing this? Pls stop watching boy abunda.


Hey Anonymous 1, no one's forcing you to go to this site and read the articles. No need for that kind of comment here.


Agree to disagree. I love the way you write. Not your usual sports piece. Have become a fan of your blog since the start of this UAAP season.

And, uhm, Go USTe!


Anonymous 1: Despite the fact you seem to dislike this mode of writing, I still want to thank you for reading. Please be reminded that as long as you choose to frequent this blog, then this is the kind of writing you'll get. Now you know. Thanks again.

Anonymous 2: Salamat. Right on.

totengaleng: Salamt din. I clicked on your account and was led to a blog, too. Hope you can begin writing stuff! :)


can I correct something? didn't Buenafe shot a trey via an assist by Ravena? I remembered he didn't shoot free throws in the dying minutes of the 4th. Ravena started his rampage in the 6 1/2 minute mark.


Anonymous: Yes. Buenafe scored 6 points in the fourth. Me made one FT with about 9 mins to go, 3 came in that big three off a Ravena assist and then his last 2 from the free throws that clinched the game. I just wrote dying minutes because, at that time, I just couldn't recall at which exact moment he hit the shots. My bad, I guess. Probably should've been more masipag in researching it. I should've just written "in the last minute." And, if the by-minute score-sheet i just received from the UAAP is to be believed, Kiefer started his scoring run with about 8:26 to go off a nifty ala-hoy shot from the baseline (and one pa). Thanks for reading!