#UAAP77Jrs Finals: NU Takes Game 1 as Eaglets Play Out of Character

After watching this game, one thing was clear — the NU Bullpups had a simple game plan to counter undefeated Ateneo’s superior depth.

Pack the paint.
Let the Eaglets shoot from the perimeter. 
Leak out at every opportunity.

It was a simple plan — maybe too simple given how this was Game 1 of the UAAP Season Juniors Basketball Finals and the Bullpups were on the wrong end of a twice-to-beat handicap. 

But it worked.

Mark Dyke and the rest of NU played good, simple basketball to take Game 1.

Again, from outside looking in, NU didn’t do anything groundbreaking or brilliant. The defending champs just executed their plan much better than the Eaglets and forced the erstwhile unbeaten Katipunan quintet our of their good habits.

In the end, the simplicity and excellence of NU’s execution was enough to dull the Blue & White’s edge and, quite possibly, quash the Eaglets’ supreme confidence.

Confidence — that was something immediately observable from how the Ateneans carried themselves prior to tip-off. Their swagger belied their knowledge that they were the favorites. After all, they went 14-0 in the elims. They beat this same NU team twice — by an average of 14 points. They had nearly two weeks of rest to ensure their freshness for the Finals. They had three of the top six players in the league, and they also had the season MVP. 

The Ateneo Blue Eaglets had everything going for them.

Well, almost everything.

Game 1 of the UAAP Juniors Finals was a lot different from any other game this team had played in Season 77.

For one, it was held in the San Juan/FilOil Flying V Arena, not the Blue Eagle Gym. Different court. Different atmosphere. 

Next, they were playing on live TV for the first time this season. It may seem like nothing, but, at least psychologically, knowing you’ll be on live TV can mess you up a bit.

Lastly, the NU team Ateneo plastered at the end of the second round was not even a shadow of the real NU squad. Any Ateneo hoop nut who watched that game and no other game featuring the Bullpups this basketball season easily could have been lulled into a false sense of complacency. The NU quintet Ateneo was facing this time around rediscovered its identity and had a lot of momentum after winning three straight in the stepladder (two over Adamson and one over De La Salle-Zobel). They weren’t forcing Mark Dyke to be a facilitator or as a penetrator anymore. Underrated playmaker Philip Manalang returned to his steady form. John Lloyd Clemente and Jordan Sta. Ana were solid again, and young beanpole Justine Baltazar has improved by leaps and bounds. 

Philip Manalang was back to his seady form in Game 1.

Most of the people who asked me about my Juniors Finals predictions were surprised when I said that it wouldn’t be a sweep. Most fans felt that Ateneo was indomitable, invincible. 

But most people hadn’t seen what I’d seen.

Most people didn’t see Mark Dyke drop 23 points and grab 18 rebounds as NU beat Ateneo, 80-78, in the 2014 Filoil Flying V Summer League. In that game, Philip Manalang was awesome, too, dropping 14 markers and handing out 6 dimes. That game was, obviously, also held at the FilOil Flying V/San Juan Arena, where the Eaglets haven’t beaten NU since… I actually cannot remember (perhaps when Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal, and Pao Romero were still playing in 2010?). 

Even fewer people saw how the Eaglets actually swept another pre-UAAP tournament — the 2014 Pilipinas Chinese Amateur Basketball League (PCABL) at the Enderun Colleges — en route to the Finals, where they faced the dangerous Chiang Kai Shek Blue Dragons. Prior to that one-and-done title game, Ateneo already beat CKSC, 71-67, and that was without the big three of Mike Nieto, Matt Nieto, and Jolo Mendoza. In the Finals, however, despite having the big three back, Ateneo struggled against CKSC, who drew 22 points from future NU Bulldog (how fitting) JV Gallego and 21 markers from former RP-Youth shooter Fran Yu. The Eaglets were playing catch-up in that contest, and they could never really get a big run to turn things around. Ateneo absorbed its only loss of that tournament, 77-87, and fell short of the championship. 

This isn't the first time Mike Nieto and the Eaglets lost in the Finals after sweeping the elims.

I had a really bad feeling that the same thing would happen in Game 1. The Eaglets, historically, have never played well on the heels of an elimination round sweep. In 1999, the Eaglets swept the Juniors elims, but lost in Game 1 against the Adamson Baby Falcons (powered, I think, by future UST sniper Jemal Vizcarra). That was the game Larry Fonacier was out because of chicken pox. 

In 2006, the Eaglets went on to win all 12 elims games (this was the season without any DLSU/DLSZ team) before losing to Soc Rivera, Mark Lopez, and the rest of the FEU-FERN Baby Tamaraws in Game 1, 55-67. 

And, of course, believe it or not, in 2010 it happened again. Despite having Kiefer, Von, and Pao, the Eaglets lost to the Kevin-Ferrer-powered Tiger Cubs, 71-77, after going 14-0 in the elims.

In all those previous seasons, Ateneo, in spite of dropping those Game 1s, still claimed the crowns. Will it happen again this season? The jury is still out on that, but the fact is the Eaglets will need to make several adjustments to avoid getting sidetracked the rest of the way.

One stat that jumps out from Game 1 is outside shooting. The Eaglets took 62 jump shots out of 82 total field goal attempts. They made just 17. Of those 62 jumpers, 37 were from three-point range. The Eaglets made just 10 of those. In short, Ateneo took too many outside shots, or, rather, was forced to take them by the heavily-packed-in defense of the Bullpups. 

How packed in, you wonder? Ateneo was -18 in terms of attempts in the paint. They had 13 misses from around the basket, most of which were sent back by NU’s bigger frontline (In all, NU had 12 blocks to just 5 for Ateneo). And what happened after some of those Ateneo misses? NU’s John Lloyd Clemente leaked out, scoring at least 6 points on easy fastbreak lay-ups. 

Pampanga-native John Lloyd Clemente caught fire for the Bullpups.

In three previous games against Ateneo (two in the UAAP and one in FilOil), Clemente averaged just 5.3 points per game. In Game 1, he tossed in 17. Manalang also did well with 14 points on top of 5 assists and 4 rebounds, while Dyke was his dominant self, hitting 9 of his 16 FGs on the way to 20 points. The Batang Gilas big man also collared 17 boards while blocking 3 shots. 

Those three Bullpups combined to score 51 points, which pales in comparison to the combined 58 of the Nieto twins and Jolo Mendoza, but NU had significantly more output from its supporting cast. Outside of Ateneo’s big three, only third-year players Gian Mamuyac, BJ Andrade, and Enzo Joson found the basket. NU, meanwhile, saw six other Bullpups score. 

Dyke, Clemente, and Manalang also shot relatively well (19-of-40 for 47.5%), while Mike, Matt, and Jolo struggled to find the hole (19-of-57 for 33.3%). 

Also, take a look at the following stats:

Previous 2 UAAP meetings:
NU shot 38/121 or 31.4% from the field. On average, NU had 60.5 field goal attempts in these two games.
Ateneo shot 52/138 or 37.7% from the field. On average, Ateneo had 69.0 field goal attempts in these two games.

Game 1:
NU shot 27/79 or 34.2% from the field. +18.5 FG attempts compared to the two-game average.
Ateneo shot 24/82 or 29.3% from the field. +13.0 FG attempts compared to the two-game average.


Ateneo and NU played a little slower in their previous two contests. Because they were aggressive in leaking out, the Bullpups forced Ateneo to play a bit of a faster pace. Because they were more aggressive on defense, the Bullpups also forced Ateneo out of some good habits. 

The Eaglets averaged around 27 three-point attempts in their previous two games against NU. In this one, as I wrote already, Ateneo hoisted 37 shots from long range.

*It is also worth noting that Ateneo averaged just 18.1 3pt attempts per game in the elims. 

So NU forced Ateneo to take more outside shots than they’re used to and to play faster than they used to in an atmosphere they’re not used to. It shouldn’t have been a big surprise that the Eaglets went down.

The silver lining (because there is always a silver lining), however, is that Ateneo forced a lot of Bullpup turnovers. Because of some aggressive pressure D from the Blue & White, specifically Mamuyac, Andrade, and Joson, NU coughed the ball up 22 times, which led to 16 points-off-TOs for the Eaglets. 

Ateneo was even able to bring the deficit down to just 1 point, the last at 59-60 in the 5:53 mark of the fourth quarter, but, again, the Eaglets’ penchant for outside shooting reared its ugly head. In a span of 104 seconds, Ateneo shot and clanked 5 triples, leading to a 10-3 NU run that all but deflated the Eaglets’ chances. 

In the end, NU coach Jeff Napa’s simple plan worked beautifully. He clogged the lane, was able to force Ateneo to take much more perimeter shots than they needed to, and kept the Eaglets’ defense on its heels with constant leak outs. 

As for Ateneo, they were thrust into a completely different situation from anything else they faced this season. They were like fish out of water, and, not surprisingly, played out of character. 

It wasn’t just the arena, wasn’t just the live TV coverage, wasn’t just the pressure of the 14-game sweep, and wasn’t just the fact it was the Finals. It was all those simple factors adding up, and then throw in NU’s inspired play just for good measure.

Now it’s time for Ateneo to respond, and, frankly speaking, I believe they will respond in an unbelievable way. They know what’s at stake, and I think they’ve learned from their previous stumbles. 

No team, after all, ever claimed the championship on a silver platter. It's always through adversity.

And this is theirs.

Coach Joe Silva and the Eaglets will have to make a couple of adjustments in Game 2 to regain control of this series.

Mike Nieto and BJ Andrade help up Philip Manalang after the latter takes a bad fall. #Sportsmanship
(image from Arvin Lim/Fabilioh)

Unless otherwise specified, all images are by Mandy Mangubat/The Shaded Lane.

Check out Game 2 of the #UAAP77Jrs Finals on February 17, 2015 at the San Juan Arena. Because of this Game 1 win, NU has effectively reduced The Finals to a best-of-three affair.

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4 Comment

Ayan kasi puro PANDAK!!!


That's what happens pag overconfident kasi masyado mga gago. Masyado na kasing pampered mga players na yan eh.Pagdating naman sa pba wala rin. Perfect example yang si thirdy ravena puro endorsements na may sasakyan and everything eh wala pa nga naproprove. Tangina puro dakdak at DJ lang alam kaya lang naging mvp nung high school kasi may size, athleticism, at konting skills. Kaya walang nangyayari sa philippine basketball puro kupal mga player eh supot naman. Kaya ang nagiging magaling lang puro yung mga probinsyano o mahihirap na wala namang nakuhang training nung bata. Dapat talaga yung gawin natin yung ginagawa ng europeans natratrain talaga yung mga bata na maglaro ng maayos wala munang ka-epalan na involved.


BORING!!!! kahit kailan di ako na-entertain talaga sa uaap basketball seniors man o juniors. Imbis na gantong walang-kwentang liga ng mga pasikat na totoy ang binabalita dapat magfocus ka na lang sa euroleague siguro mas may saysay pa yun.


Di karapat-dapat itelevise yung mga uaap,ncaa, at pba games na larong-tae. Eto pa kaya? Dapat euroleague na lang ipalabas sa mga inutil na pilipino para magkasustansya naman ang utak.