Sunday, 28 August 2011 6,239 Views / 420 Comments
ATENEO de Manila University just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to make its arch-rival’s chances of making the Final Four near impossible. In doing so, they also took a step further to an elimination round sweep.
Bucking foul trouble that saddled its prized rookie center, the Blue Eagles manhandled the De La Salle Green University Archers 79-62 for their eleventh straight win in season 74 of the UAAP last August 28 at the Araneta Coliseum.
“One of the keys of our team this year is we don’t really rely on just one person,” said Ateneo head coach Norman Black. “We’re a very balanced team, so, even if Greg’s [Slaughter] out of the game, we still need to play well while he’s on the bench.”
Greg Slaughter was whistled for his second foul barely four minutes into the first quarter, hitting a driving Arnold Van Opstal and sending him to the line where his split gave La Salle a 5-4 lead. That turned out to be their only lead of the game, as Ateneo countered with transition scores by Kiefer Ravena and Kirk Long, followed by charities from Justin Chua, to make it 12-6 and force the Green Archers to the catch-up role all the way to the end. They got close in the second quarter after team captain Simon Atkins hit a triple to pull his team to within a deuce, 28-26 with 2:21 remaining. Ravena and Chua provided the separation though, with a jumper and a free throw respectively, to hike the halftime lead to five.
The Blue Eagles hoped that the return of Slaughter would reinvigorate them enough to forge a double-digit lead, but it seemed like La Salle was going to deny them that opportunity when Maui Villanueva quickly drew the seven-footer’s third just two minutes into the second half. Black gambled though by leaving him in, and it paid off, as the defending champions broke out into a 9-2 run to give them a 13-point lead, 42-29. The Archer frontcourt tried valiantly to cut into the score, as Van Opstal and Norbert Torres brought the tally down to 42-32. They couldn’t sustain their momentum though, as a trey from Tonino Gonzaga and two completed trips to the line by Emman Monfort padded the lead even further to 51-36 at the 2:22 mark of the third quarter.
By the fourth quarter, the writing was on the wall for the green shirts as they couldn’t get stops. A Gonzaga triple and layup in transition sandwiched a jumper by Slaughter, opening up a 60-46 advantage in the opening moments of the final period. Engaging Ateneo in an exchange of baskets did De La Salle no favors, especially as the league leaders kept running on missed triples. Coupled with offensive rebounds, the efficient Ateneo offense built its biggest lead at 21 after an and-one play by Nico Salva with less than a minute and a half to play as the second unit held down the fort until the final buzzer.
“This was an easy week to get them focused. Nobody needs to be motivated much when we play La Salle,” added Black after his team barely survived the UE Red Warriors, their opponents prior to this matchup. “We understood the situation coming into the game, they [La Salle] really needed this basketball game to be able to survive, get into the Final Four and we just wanted to come out and beat them.”
Four Blue Eagles finished in double-digit scoring, led by the sweet-shooting Salva, who led the way with 19 markers on a 50 percent clip. The starting backcourt of Ravena and Monfort scored 13 each and combined for 13 boards and seven dimes. Top reserve Gozaga was the spark plug off the bench for Ateneo on both ends of the court, scoring 12 points and adding four rebounds, three assists and two steals. “He’s probably been our best bench player this year. Tonight was a very good offensive night for him…and he always plays good defense so I’m happy for him,” said Black.
Ateneo shut down the perimeter defensively, holding DLSU to just 16 points on 7-of-27 shooting from outside the shaded lane. And, despite tying them in offensive rebounds and turnovers, with 14 and 16 respectively, the Blue Eagles still had more second-chance points, 11 to 8, and turnover points, 16 to 13.
Only Van Opstal scored in double-digits for La Salle, finishing with 13 points, two rebounds and two blocks as he took advantage of Slaughter’s foul trouble to attack the rim. Almond Vosotros and Jarelan Tampus both added nine, but all of Vosotros’ points came in the second half, while all of Tampus’ scores were from the first. The Green Archers were able to match the Blue Eagles’ trips to the foul line, both getting 22 looks from the stripe, but could not convert, making only 10 free throws while Ateneo knocked in 18.
The Blue Eagles clinched a twice-to-beat advantage in case of a Final Four with this win, going up to 11-0 as they await the UP Fighting Maroons on September 1. The Green Archers, meanwhile, have lost four straight games and have not yet won a game in the second round of the tournament, dropping to 4-7, tied with the idle NU Bulldogs. That puts them two games behind the UST Growling Tigers who are at 6-5, with a dimming possibility of making the postseason. Their next assignment will also be UP on September 4.
Ateneo 79 – Salva 19, Ravena 13, Monfort 13, Gonzaga 12, Slaughter 8, Chua 7, Long 6, Tiongson 1, Erram 0, Sumalinog 0, Golla 0, Austria 0
De La Salle 62 – Van Opstal 13, Vosotros 9, Tampus 9, Torres 8, Revilla 6, Villanueva 6, Atkins 4, de la Paz 3, Paredes 2, Webb 2, Gotladera 0, Mendoza 0, Marata 0
Quarter scoring: 14-11, 31-26, 53-42, 79-62