The Games That Play Us: A Step Closer and an Aside

Kiefer Ravena and the Blue Eagles are just one win
away from an unprecedented 5-peat in the Final Four era.

The Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles are a step closer to achieving something historic, something unparalleled, in the Final Four era.

If they play their cards right, this will be the perfect send-off to the coach who helped right the basketball program in Loyola Heights, the coach who has, as of this writing, amassed 109 wins in 135 UAAP games for Ateneo.

One step closer. One step away.

From making history.

Or repeating it.

This is, after all, also how the 2006 UAAP Finals opposite UST started, with the Eagles escaping with a close win in Game 1. Thank you, Doug Kramer.

And then came the Game 2 blowout, and the Game 3 collapse.

The set-up is all too eerie to discount, but, for the Ateneans, the payoff might be all the sweeter.

Especially if Nico Salva’s Game 2 offense continues to be even just nearly as good as what he showed in Game 1.

How good was Nico? Let’s see.

The former LSGH and San Beda standout registered 30 big points on 14-of-23 FG shooting, while also grabbing 5 rebounds, dishing out 2 assists, and getting 1 steal. The kid was just all over, matching the intensity and skill put forth by another former Bedan, Aljon Mariano. What Salva was for the Eagles, Mariano was for the Tigers. The come-backing combo forward put up an impressive double-double line, scoring 22 points, collaring 12 caroms, and dishing out 5 dimes while shooting 9-of-15 from the floor.

Another insane match-up was the one played on the wings between the troika of Kiefer Ravena, Juami Tiongson, and Ryan Buenafe for Ateneo, and the duo of Jeric Teng and Kevin Ferrer for UST.

Ravena, Tiongson, and Buenafe combined for 35 points, while Teng and Ferrer paired up for 38 markers. All of those guys hit big shots and made big plays throughout the game, but the Blue Eagle trio stood out as their makes in the endgame proved to be the most critical. Buenafe’s 6-point binge in the space of 30 seconds gave Ateneo a 7-point lead, while Juami Tiongson’s two drives provided added cushion. Of course, no shot was bigger that Kiefer’s 20-footer over Mariano with 9 seconds to go. That shot pegged the final score and officially sent Ateneo to Game 2 with a 1-0 series advantage.

This is not to say Teng and Ferrer clammed up in crunch time. Teng, in particular, was superb, hitting two treys in the final minute that undoubtedly sent not a few people’s blood pressures rising. I even think he had a good case to shoot three more free throws in the endgame. Not that it would have made any difference in terms of the game result, of course, unless someone was engaged in a shady numbers game.

Beyond the spectacular feats of the aforementioned players, however, I believe the biggest difference in this game was the performance of one of Ateneo’s most unheralded assets – Justin Chua.

Justin Chua was the unsung hero who helped lift
Ateneo over the gritty Tigers in Game 1.

Chua posted 9 points on 4-of-8 FG shooting. That’s not exactly out-of-this-world awesome, but when one considers that both teams’ starting centers, Greg Slaughter and Karim Abdul, were having below-par games, Chua’s contribution should come up as extremely pivotal. Consider, too, that prior to this game, Chua normed just 3 points in Ateneo’s last 4 outings, and scored a total of just 3 points this season in the Katipunan quintet’s two previous encounters versus the España five.

And then he drops 9 markers, which is four more than Greg’s total and exactly the same as Abdul’s. Needless to say, the former Chiang Kai Shek standout and Tiong Lian MVP stepped up big time.

And he’ll probably need to step up again in Game 2, especially since the Tigers really seem to have Greg all figured out. Without Erram out there, and with UST probably shifting its interior defense to clamp down on Nico, Chua’s performance could be the barometer of both teams’ championship fortunes.

So on to the next (perhaps the last?) game of the season.

Ateneo is just one away from a fifth straight title, but, more importantly, just one away from exorcising the demons of six years ago. Again, the situation seems eerily appropriate – Ateneo will try to wrap things up in the exact place where they lost the Season 69 title, in the same place where UST rallied from a 19-point deficit to beat them in the first round.

Can UST repeat the feat and force a third game, or will Ateneo finally dispel its demons and give Norman Black the perfect parting present?

All bets are off. We’re all a step closer to finding out on Thursday.

An aside:

As if this series needed any more dramatic overtures, we have Coach Pido Jarencio of UST unleashing his ad hominem regarding the officiating.

Kim Lo (L) and Jeric Fortuna (R) attempt to
restrain Coach Pido Jarencio in a heated moment.
(image by Jenzine Alcantara/

It’s all fitting, of course, since this is the UAAP, where everyone remembers to blame game officials, and elevate protests to the board. This is the UAAP, where everyone forgets to just play through the breaks of the game (both on and off the court).

This is the UAAP – unbreakable.

More like unbelievable.

I think Coach Pido’s comments are off-kilter for two reasons.

First, all season long, his Tigers have risen above adversity on their own merit. He himself labeled a good number of their wins as tsamba. They’re the Comeback Cats. They have proven, repeatedly, that they could overturn any deficit and rally for a big win. This is due to their depth. This is due to their firepower. This is due to their persistence. This is why, for several weeks, UST was atop my own Power Rankings. Complaining about the officiating in such a brazen manner dilutes the efforts of his wards, whether that effect is intended or not. It also skews the focus from the real, tangible, factors of Ateneo’s comeback win – Nico dropping 30 and the big shots of Juami, Ryan, and Kiefer down the stretch.

Second, a glance at the stat-sheet reveals that, if anything, Coach Pido may have a point – maninipis nga yung tawag. The strange thing, however, is that the numbers imply that UST benefitted from most of the calls. Let’s look at the fourth quarter. Ateneo was tagged with 7 fouls, while UST was tagged with just 3. The Tigers, in fact, only committed two fouls until Abdul’s reach-in (his fifth foul) in the dying seconds. What’s more, UST was awarded 10 free throws in the fourth quarter, while Ateneo was given just 1. Overall, UST shot 26 freebies, while Ateneo attempted only 12. Foul calls and free throws, of course, aren’t the be-all and end-all of officiating, but the disparity in the numbers is pretty compelling especially when one considers that the self-proclaimed aggrieved party is the one with LESS fouls and MORE free throws.

I’m quite certain, though, that Coach Pido was just caught up in the moment, overwhelmed by his passion, and swamped by the bitter taste of yet another close loss to Ateneo. I’m also certain he knows that any more commentary about the refereeing from either end of the championship spectrum would just fuel speculation and provide fertile ground for distraction. Because of this, I am 110% sure he’ll spend the next few days just prepping his boys for one hell of a Game 2 instead of harping about the officiating.

This is what having high stakes can do to any man. This underscores the importance, the significance, of this series and of this championship.

Unbreakable and unbelievable. Only in the UAAP.


AdMU 83 – Salva 30, Ravena 13, Tiongson 12, Buenafe 10, Chua 9, Slaughter 5, Gonzaga 2, Elorde 2, Sumalinog 0, Golla 0
UST 78 – Teng 25, Mariano 22, Ferrer 13, Abdul 9, Fortuna 4, Lo 3, Pe 2, Bautista 0
QS: 18-24, 31-38, 61-51, 83-78

Jeric Teng was splendid as UST's most
prolific scorer in Game 1.
(image by Jenzine Alcantara/

Juami Tiongson hit a couple of big shots
in the dying minutes for Ateneo.

Karim Abdul's subpar performance
compounded UST's woes.

Nico Salva's career game will go down as one of the most
electrifying in Ateneo basketball lore.

Former Eaglets Paulo Pe (L) and Frank Golla (R)
muscle each other for the rebound.

Ryan Buenafe's swagger is unmistakable
after hitting a big three in the fourth.

Unless otherwise specified, all images are by Juan Benjamin Janeo/
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3 Comment

Finally, somebody points out how UST benefited from officiating. I myself couldnt believe that Ateneo was already in the penalty halfway through the 4th quaile UST had a whopping zero fouls. Indeed, unbelievable.


Indeed. I guess Coach Pido just really got overwhelmed by the gravity of the whole situation and all the emotions that come with playing in a championship series. Hoping that Game 2 will be even more awesome than Game 1!


Read this same article on another site, and people were just ridiculous, calling it "unfair", saying they were so "disappointed" and that just made my day!

Great article, actually.

They would not be calling it unfair if THEY won the game. People should grow up.

I wanted to post the following comment, don't know if it ever made it to the actual thread. I gave up on trying because people were just ridiculous. Ridiculous!


It's amazing that so many people are SERIOUSLY complaining about how "unfair" this article is.

If the writer is from the Ateneo, and he is "biased" to the school, accept it. He's the writer, it's his column, so if you are looking for such a "fair" article, why don't you all get some credibility and WRITE one yourself, see if anyone will post it.

And by the way, I am sure that if you did manage to write a piece on the finals and it was published, it wouldn't be "fair" too... to people from the Ateneo (if they even cared at all), because then you'd be biased to your university.

Unless you can tell me that throughout these finals, with the roller coaster of emotions, you will sing praises to your boys and the Eagles as well?

Besides, everyone should just RELAX. The calls were made, the decisions were made, the game was won, AND WE ARE ALL LOOKING FORWARD THE GAME 2.

To everyone fighting over what happened during Game One, you are all just wasting the time you could spend praying for your respective team instead.