Sizing Up Ateneo and UST

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Finals Appearances (in the Final Four era):

Ateneo = 9 (last appeared, and won, in 2011)
UST = 6 (last appeared, and won, in 2006)
*These count their current Finals appearance in Season 75.
- UST was eliminated by Ateneo in each of its Final Four appearances after winning the 2006 title: 69-64 in 2007, 81-64 in 2009, and 69-66 last year.

- This is only the second time Ateneo and UST will meet in the UAAP Finals, with their first and only meeting in Season 69 going UST's way after a thrilling three-game series. UST beat Ateneo, 76-74, in the overtime period of Game 3.

- These are two of the winningest college basketball programs in the country's history. Ateneo leads all programs with a total of 21 combined titles in the NCAA and UAAP, while UST is tied for second with FEU, having won 18 UAAP crowns and 1 NCAA plum.

- Many people view this as Ateneo's last great chance at winning a title, especially since championship mentor Norman Black will officially leave for the PBA, and a host of the Eagles' core players are graduating -- Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, Justin Chua, Oping Sumalinog, and Tonino Gonzaga. A couple of other players may also choose not to return for their final year of eligibility -- Ryan Buenafe and Frank Golla. 

- This trip to the Finals is seen as deja vu for many UST followers, since, like in 2006, not a lot of people mentioned them in the championship conversation. Many of their wins, in fact, were attributed by their own coach, Pido Jarencio, to mere tsamba. Ironically, it was only Ateneo's coach, Norman Black, who outwardly chose UST as a title contender before Season 75 began.

Head-to-Head Match-Ups:

1st round: UST beat Ateneo, 71-70

- Ateneo started really strong, leading by as many as 19 points in the first half, but the Tigers clawed back in the third quarter behind the inspired play of come-backing combo forward Aljon Mariano. The former San Beda Red Cub scored 21 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out 2 assists, and had 1 steal in what was his best game of the season. 

- Despite shooting better from the field and having more assists, the Eagles were plagued by stubborn execution and sloppy ball-handling. Ateneo turned the ball over twice as many times as UST did, and they allowed the Tigers to have 14 more attempts at the basket. 

- This was a big win for UST, since it came almost immediately after a heart-breaking loss to the FEU Tamaraws on opening weekend. Many observers saw this win as the spark that sent UST stringing up the victories and surging up the standings.

2nd round: AdMU beat UST, 68-66

- This time, the story was very different. Ateneo trailed at the half and it was the Eagles' turn to have a big third quarter. The wing combo of Kiefer Ravena, Juami Tiongson, and Ryan Buenafe led the way for Ateneo with a combined 42 points. 

- Aljon Mariano was "held" to just 9 points on 3-of-13 FG shooting here, as the Tigers struggled to find their range. One bright spot for UST was Karim Abdul outplaying Greg Slaughter. Abdul had 22 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks against Slaughter's 10-point, 5-rebound output. 

- Like the previous game, the Eagles struggled in this one. They lost the battle of the boards, 38-41, and, again, they turned the ball over more times, 18-13. This was mainly because UST stole the ball FOURTEEN times. Ateneo has been pretty awesome against most of the competition, but it's pretty clear that UST is the Eagles' kryptonite.

Additional Pre-Finals Notes: 

- One dangerous thing for Ateneo is the fact that Slaughter has yet to have a breakout game against UST. He really struggles against the Tigers because they crowd him when he gets the ball down low, and their scrambling defense clogs the passing lanes. In two games, Greg's averages are: 9.5ppg, 5.0rpg, 2.0bpg, and 1.5apg, while shooting 40% from the field. For a big man of his caliber, those are bad numbers. With the exception of blocks per game, all those stats are significantly below his normal production rate.

- This is balanced out, however, by the output of Kiefer Ravena, who seems to always bring his best against UST. In two games, "The Phenom" has normed 18.5ppg, 5.5rpg, and 2.5apg while shooting 48% from the floor. Considering the career game he had against DLSU in the Final Four, all signs point to Kiefer probably destined for a series to remember.

It's going to be a tight series. It will go three games. Ateneo will find a way to win its fifth straight title.

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