With the way games have gone down in the last few weeks, is it any wonder that the UAAP is the hottest ticket in town?
Everyone loves Fall Out Boy, and everyone has felt all nice and fuzzy because of Elliot Yamin’s recent visit to Manila, but nothing can quite match the intensity and the drama brought about by Philippine Collegiate Basketball tiffs, particularly those between arch rivals De La Salle and Ateneo De Manila University.
On Thursday, for the 4th time this season, Ateneo and La Salle will tussle, and this time, for the Eagles, a loss would mean the end of an all-in-all decent season.
Keys to a La Salle Win:
For the Green Archers, I think that big games from their wingmen could very well spell triumph (no pun intended). Ateneo’s defense will most likely clamp down on JVee Casio, so, others like Walsham, Villanueva, Tang, Mangahas, and Malabes will have to chip in. Both Ateneo and La Salle have decent big men in Baclao and Arao for the Eagles, and Maierhofer, Co, and Ferdinand for the Archers. La Salle will have an edge in this case terms of overall athletic ability. Guys like Kish Co and Rico Maierhofer can most likely outrun and outjump Arao, Al-Hussaini, and Baldos (Baclao, maybe not), which would give the boys in green a distinct advantage should the game become an up and down affair. In order to ultimately win this gritty battle of will, La Salle will have to speed up the ballgame, and take well-timed perimeter plays and exploit Ateneo having a tendency to be slow in transition with quick passes and cuts to the cup. Also, the Archers need to show composure towards the end game. No more Bryan Ilad flings to the head, please. La Salle doesn’t need such recklessness at this critical point in the 2007 campaign.
On defense, the Archers probably should do a 2-3 zone, so as to put more emphasis on clogging up the interior where guys like Baclao, Arao, and Baldos, do their damage.
Keys to an Ateneo Win:
First off, the Eagles should not ride the wave of their resounding triumph over UST too much. Any overconfidence at this juncture would hurt them, considering that there’s enough of an emotional downpour involved with playing arch rival La Salle. Being too pumped up on Thursday could drain the Eagles so much that they’d lose poise down the stretch.
In terms of basketball fundamentals, I believe that Coach Norman should eschew using guards Jai Reyes and Eric Salamat for prolonged periods. Jai and Eric are more of one-on-one players as opposed to distributors, and because the Eagles lineup is littered with cagers who aren’t uber athletes (even Tiu isn’t quite like JC Intal, nor is Ford Arao like someone like Japeth “The Future” Aguilar), crisp ball movement and flawless spacing on the court becomes all the more important. Against a team as proficient in full court defense as La Salle, there exists minimal room for coast to coast Steve Nash-like-in-his-days-unde-Don Nelson theatrics. For Ateneo to succeed, they need to slow the pace down and take advantage of their post players, and turn the contest into a halfcourt game so as to leave room for easy rebounds, drive-and-drops, and screen and rolls.
On defense, I feel like the Blue Eagles need to play 3-2 zone. That way, they can cover La Salle’s wing players adequately, while managing to clog up the paint should guys like Maierhofer and Walsham post up or try to sneak in for takeaway caroms.
As with any big Ateneo game, the Eagles will need an exceptional performance from an unlikely source to help push them over the top (penchant for drama? absolutely). In my view, I think that on offense, the dark horses ought to be Yuri Escueta and Kirk Long. If Yuri and Kirk manage to find cracks in the La Salle interior defense, then such would open up avenues for drive and dish plays to Arao and Al Hussaini for easy hoops, or open jumpers for Tiu or Barracoso. On defense, the keys will be 5th year man Zion Laterre, and rookie sensation Nonoy Baclao. Laterre, whose uncanny boxing out ability should result in easy rebounds, and La Salle’s cutting game to, even slightly, go awry (forcing the Archers to take jumpers is the way to go, because size wise, they’re the smaller team), needs to play enforcer to set the tone for Ateneo playing hard-nosed basketball in a high stakes game (this would do wonders for their confidence). Nonoy Baclao wearing JC Intal’s old number is no coincidence, as the 1st year cager’s athleticism around the basket suggests. He may not (and never) be (become) the offensive force Intal was in the amateur ranks, but what Ateneo bid for after their loss to UST in the 2006 season was his long-armed interior D. Once this kid manages to get more of a back to the basket game, the Eagles may very well find themselves in the hunt for gold well beyond the UAAP’s 70th season. This native of the Visayas could very well spell the difference between someone like JV Casio or Rico Maierhoffer getting 5 points, or 25 points. Should the Birds manage to “decelerate” the ballgame, and control the paint, then Loyola Heights natives will be in Cubao, once again, come Sunday.
All the Ateneo-La Salle matchups have been tight this season, with no game being decided by double digits. Now, all the chips are down, and although a lot of strategy is involved, who wins and who goes home will also depend a lot on who is able to withstand the pressure. The La Sallites have a lot of young players who have never been too far into the postseason, while the Eagles have a lot of wily veterans who should find the final four/step ladder landscape quite familiar. At this point, I feel that Ateneo wants the wins more, but maybe, the team from Taft is more equipped, top to bottom, to steal at least one game to book a date with the mighty UE Red Warriors. The struggle should be close, but I feel that more “reckless” talent could just overcome slow and steady basketball savvy. Ateneo has a tendency to fumble the ball a lot when going against a team that is quick on the perimeter, and one that likes to press. Quick perimeter defenses can tend to stymie the Eagles shooters and their “stand still” bigs. The Archers, on the other hand, may seem to rely on one dimensional plays, at times, to win (i.e. JV Casio ISO, Maierhofer/Walsham, etc lurking around to rebound), but for Thursday (or Sunday), their talent should see them through the distraction that is Ateneo De Manila. The twice to beat caveat will be the killer here. 2 people can’t beat Michael Jordan, one on one, twice. Being the great player that Jordan is, he will, in a figurative sense, find ways to win. Talent can do that. Staying within the system (i.e. Ateneo) has it’s limits. Once the signals within that system are scrambled, then recovery should prove to be a tall task. Talent, on the other hand, can still lift you up out of the grave, no matter how flustered the majority of your comrades are. Think the Bulls of 1998 against the Jazz. Stockton and Malone were great because of the pick and roll. Because they were “effective”, Utah was effective. Jordan and the Bulls looked lost at times in that series, but what got them through in the end? Jordan’s unparalled on-court smarts and basketball talent, of course.