#UAAP77Jrs Finals: This Series Is All About Aggression

There can only be one truth in this series after a crazy Game 2 — aggression will win the championship. Not attrition. Not size. Not talent. Not depth. Not efficiency. 

It’s all about aggression.

Aggression wins.
In Game 1, the NU Bullpups were the more aggressive crew, getting the the Ateneans’ faces on defense and forcing the Loyola quintet to play out of character.

In Game 2, it was Ateneo’s time to respond, many times attacking the basket even when the outside shot was available (Ateneo took 37 threes in Game 1 and only 22 here). That is, until the fourth quarter, when the Eaglets tried to drain the clock and looked like they were playing not to lose.

They didn’t lose, of course, but they also lost a lead that was once as big as 15 points. 

Credit goes to NU for not rolling over and giving up. Props to Philip Manalang and Alenn Mina for hitting big shots that cut their deficit and kept Ateneo on its toes.

Philip Manalang remians a thorn in Ateneo's scheme of things.
(image from UBL)

In the end, though, the lead was just too big. Behind a blitz of a third quarter, coach Joe Silva’s Eaglets gained back the confidence that was noticeably absent in Game 1. 

Whereas defense was the Bullpups’ calling card in the first game, it was Ateneo’s turn to put the clamps on NU in Game 2. 

Well, kinda. 

Four NU players still scored in double-digits and reserve big man Mark Ferreras still made enough baskets to merit his now-infamous “be quiet” gesture, but, get this, NU star power forward Mark Dyke was held to just 8 field goal attempts here. That’s just half of his total FG attempts in Game 1.

All the praise should go to a platoon of Blue Eaglet defenders who took turns trying to contain Dyke — from Jossier Hassan, Mike Nieto, Shaun Ildefonso, Brix Ramos, and BJ Andrade. Each of those guys was extra aggressive in denying the entry pass, extra aggressive in making it hard for the Batang Gilas big to get to his sweet spots. Most of Dyke’s points, in fact, were mainly brought about by his offensive rebounding. Very rare was he able to get the ball in the post and score on his man.

Credit should also go to third-year gunner Jolo Mendoza, who was clearly in attack mode from the get-go. Several times in Game 1, Jolo chose to pull up or pass off even when he had the clear path or was open. That wasn’t the case here as Jolo made it a point to make NU’s defense work extra hard. Even if he didn’t make every lay-up, he made sure to fish for the foul or just plainly make Bullpup defenders leave Ateneo’s gunners open. 

Can Jolo Mendoza stay aggressive in Game 3?

Ball movement was also key for Ateneo. In Game 1, the Eaglets assisted on 13 of their 24 made field goals. In Game 2, they had already reached that assist total by the end of the third period, where they enjoyed a 13-point bubble.

Again, things slowed down and their body language changed in the final frame, but they did well enough to preserve the W.

“Playing well enough,” however, won’t be enough to cop the title and return it to Loyola Heights. Ateneo needs to stay aggressive, needs to remain on attack mode, needs to play the kind of relentless, in-your-face basketball they’ve played all season long.

As for NU, the Bullpups need to keep their wits about them. They cannot get easily frustrated with perceived bad calls, or easily get rattled with every Ateneo run. They cannot afford key guys like Jordan Sta. Ana and Mina fouling out. They cannot afford for Dyke to take only eight shots. Heck, they cannot afford to lose one more game.

It’s as much a mental and emotional affair as it is physical for both of these squads, and the team that can keep everything balanced should have a bit of an edge.

But, again, the championship formula is very simple — the more aggressive team wins. No ifs and buts about it.

Check out Game 3 of the #UAAP77Jrs Finals on February 20, 2015 at the San Juan Arena. Ateneo is playing for the title, while NU is playing to force a do-or-die Game 4.

MVP Mike Nieto and Batang Gilas big man Mrk Dyke are set to tussle again in Game 3.

Can the Nieto twins bring the UAAP crown back to Loyola Heights?

Unless otherwise specified, all images are by Raddy Mabasa/Fabilioh.

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