Friday, 12 October 2012 98 Comments
It was a game of goodbyes.
With under 5 seconds to go, senior starting point guard, Juami Tiongson intercepted an errant pass from UST shooter Clark Bautista. The pass was meant for the hot hands of the Tigers’ graduating playmaker, Jeric Fortuna. Juami got his hands on the ball, stayed inbounds, dribbled a couple of times and then threw it up in the air.
It was a simple steal, but it clinched the title. For now, it stands as Juami’s best John Havlicek moment. Had Fortuna been able to receive Bautista’s pass, the former Zobel Junior Archer might have been able to launch a desperation three that would’ve potentially tied the game. Good thing Juami happened – the guy wearing jersey #5 delivered when it mattered most, and now Ateneans all over are enjoying an historic #5.
In the process, the Eagles did something perhaps just a little more important than the actual 5-peat – they exorcised the demons of ’06. It was quite intriguing that the UST Yellow Jackets displayed the line, “Déjà vu 2006,” during their halftime cheer, only to be thwarted by the Blues’ relentless drive in what would turn out to be the final two periods of the season.
There won’t be any déjà vu of ’06. In fact, perhaps save for what’s etched in the annals of history, this fifth straight title win effectively erases all the bitterness stemming from that loss. This edition of the Blue Eagles achieved vengeance for JC Intal, Doug Kramer, and Macky Escalona. The ghosts of Season 69 can now pass on, never again haunting the present.
Coach Norman Black was spot on when he tagged UST as a title contender this season. He was also spot on when he said that this time around his players are older and wiser, unlike the team he handled 6 years ago – a team that, though overloaded with talent, didn’t really have a lot of championship experience under its belt.
Coach Norman and his wards needed every sliver of their experience and poise in Game 2, especially since UST had no plans of simply handing the trophy over on a silver platter.
Fortuna was awesome here, his last game for the Black & Gold. He finished with 20 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in a scintillating display of shooting and playmaking prowess. This was his swan song, and he hit all the right notes. Too bad the same cannot really be said of the rest of his team.
The only other guy who really played well was former St. Jude superstar Kim Lo, who scored all 8 of his markers in a searing run that ended the first quarter in favor of the España crew, 14-13. Lo hit his only two triples of the season in succession to help the Tigers claw back from a 7-point hole, and he capped his personal spurt with a lefty lay-up over Justin Chua to end the first canto. Lo, however, never returned to the floor after halftime.
Aside from Lo and Fortuna, though, nobody else really caught fire for Coach Pido Jarencio. The rest of the UST squad shot just 13-of-52 from the field – a 25% shooting clip that just didn’t cut it against the defending champs. Jeric Teng shot 3-of-10, Kevin Ferrer made just 2 of his 7 shots, and Karim Abdul missed 14 of his 18 field goal attempts. Can you already hear those unfounded benta catcalls that inevitably reverberate after EVERY UAAP Finals series?
It was just a case of the Tigers having one of their worst shooting days at the worst possible time. Oh, and they missed 10 of their 17 freebies, too.
Not that Ateneo fared much better, though. The Eagles, as a team, converted nearly 40% of their field goals, but some of them still struggled. Repeat Finals MVP Nico Salva, who scored 30 points in Game 1, found the going tough here, making just 4 of his 11 attempts from the floor. Super sophomore Kiefer Ravena, despite topping all scorers with 22 markers, didn’t exactly have the best shooting day, either. He torched UST for 9 quick points in the first period, but he shot just 3-of-10 the rest of the way.
The thing with Ateneo, however, and they’ve proven this many times over, is that they’re never about the percentages. They’re about the moment. They’re about coming through when it counts the most. For the past four UAAP Finals, nobody has been better at that, and it rang true in Game 2 again.
After a Jeric Teng put-back pulled the Tigers within just two points of Ateneo late in the fourth, Juami Tiongson received the ball at the far right wing. He was momentarily open for a three, and it would’ve been perfectly justifiable to take one, but he was composed enough to pump fake, let the close-out defender fly by, and get nearer for a higher-percentage shot. His running shot with about 1:15 left was good, giving Ateneo some breathing room heading into the dying moments.
The game, however, was far from done. Greg Slaughter, who finally had a great game against UST, split his free throws with 55 seconds to go. Teng returned the favor by splitting his own charities 7 seconds later. A precarious 4-point lead with under a minute to go. Still not safe.
And then, just like in Game 1, Kiefer Ravena rose to the challenge. The Phenom drove left against a pesky Clark Bautista. Ravena stopped on a dime Jordanesque-style and let Bautista momentarily slide by. Ravena pulled up, and sank what appeared to be the dagger shot.
Ateneo held a 6-point lead with half a minute to play.
Not by a long shot.
In the next play, Jeric Fortuna received the ball from Karim Abdul off a broken play. Fortuna squared up for a corner trey and drained it. Suddenly, it was just a one-possession game. Juami was fouled in the next sequence, but he uncharacteristically muffed both free throws.
UST ball with 19 ticks to go.
Mauybe déjà vu was going to happen after all.
But it didn’t.
Ateneo’s defense held in the waning moments as they annexed their fifth straight crown.
Coach Norman probably heaved a BIG sigh of relief. After all this time, after all the ups and downs of his career in collegiate ball, he has done something nobody else has in the modern era of the UAAP.
Coach Norman can hold up all five of his fingers and think not just of goodbye, but also of five straight championships.
None of those championships simply given. None shared.
When he attends his final Ateneo bonfire as a member of the champion team, Coach Norman, along with graduating players Nico Salva, Justin Chua, Oping Sumalinog, Zags Gonzaga, and Greg Slaughter, will be greeted with cheers. All of them will be feted with accolades. They will all be installed in legend as vital parts of this golden era in Ateneo basketball.
And when the dawn beckons, when all that remains of the bonfire are a few embers, they will say their final farewells to the Blue & White gallery.
They will sing the Song for Mary.
They will begin their journey beyond the UAAP.
They will leave.
But they will not be forgotten.
They will be remembered.
AdMU BLUE EAGLES over UST GROWLING TIGERS, 65-62
ADMU 65 – Ravena 22, Slaughter 15, Tiongson 10, Salva 8, Chua 6, Gonzaga 3, Sumalinog 1, Golla 0, Elorde 0, Buenafe 0
UST 62 – Fortuna 20, Teng 9, Lo 8, Abdul 8, Ferrer 7, Bautista 6, Mariano 4, Vigil 0, Pe 0, Afuang 0
QS: 13-14, 29-29, 47-46, 65-62