Championship experience is something that is earned and used at the right time and executed to your advantage. Throw away all those two losses in the first and second round, what matters is how you will play in the finals. This was what Coach Norman Black did as his championship experience gave him and his team the proper motivation to come out pumped up and ready to put the clamps on the opposing team. As a result the Ateneo Blue Eagles came out huffing and puffing as the two-time defending champions dumped the top seeded Far Eastern University Tamaraws 72 – 49 in Game 1 of the UAAP Finals.
Kirk Long came out with a superb performance on both ends of the court again as he typified the Blue Eagle’s strength by scoring on fastbreaks and on jumpers, he scored 14 points had 5 rebounds and 2 steals. Long jumpstarted the Eagles offense and helped shutdown virtual MVP RR Garcia and rookie sensation Terrence Romeo. The big revelation however was rookie center JP Erram who was called in for duty today because of the suspension of Jumbo Escueta on his second unsportsmanlike foul. Erram swatted away four Tamaraw shots that eventually made the FEU big men think twice whenever they went in the paint.
Third year center Justin Chua and Nico Salva manned the paint well as both big men scored 13 and 10 points respectively. Emman Monfort came up with a superb defensive job in matching up with RR Garcia as his speed made it difficult for Garcia to run rings around everyone. Monfort also came up with 9 points and 7 rebounds as his spunk and determination was shown when he hit Carl Cruz of FEU after he was plastered in the previous play. When Erram established himself on defense in the first quarter, the Tamaraws were never the same as the Blue Eagles put their fastbreaking game on overdrive to race to a 26 – 8 first quarter lead. All the Eagles did in the next three quarters was fend off all rallies made by the Tamaraws.
A lot of people were saying that the problem with the Eagles is that unlike last year they knew that Rabah Al-Husaini and Jai Reyes were the “go –to guys” and this year this isn’t really anyone who has ably filled in that slot. Unfortunately for their critics when everyone is clicking for the Blue Eagles it is impossible to stop them. Veteran Erik Salamat for instance played for only 15 minutes, scored 8 points but also rifled off six assists and had two steals. Erram would end up with 4 points, three rebounds and five blocks in 13 minutes of action – not bad for someone who replaced a center averaging the same points.
In contrast, the best offensive team in the league never knew how this time around is was harder to score. RR Garcia had zero first quarter points and ended up with 11 while Terrence Romeo had 10 points with five coming in the fourth quarter when the game was already beyond recall. FEU big men Reil Cervantes and Aldrech Ramos was nowhere to be found as the two had 7 and 6 points respectively. Their wingmen JR Cawaling and Paul Sanga combined for three points as both shot miserably from the field. The Blue Eagles on the other hand had the advantage in almost all statistical category. The Eagles had more rebounds (46 – 40) assists (18 – 9) Steals (5-3) Blocks (6 – 3) and Fastbreak points (15 - 0). The only category that the Tamaraws had more was in turnovers 14 – 13.
The Blue Eagles will definitely go out to win their sixth UAAP Title as they add another milestone to their storied basketball program. Game time is 4:00 pm on Thursday September 30 as the Eagle vie to become the first school to win three double championships. GO Ateneo, its smells like another bonfire!
Long 14, Chua 13, Salva 10, Monfort 9, Austria 8, Salamat 8, Erram 4, Gonzaga 2, Golla 2, Buenafe 2, Tiongson 0, dela Cruz 0.
Garcia 11, Romeo 10, Cervantes 7, Noundou 6, Ramos 6, Cawaling 3, Exciminiano 2, Cruz 2, Bringas 2, Guerrero 0, Mendoza 0, Knuttel 0, Sanga 0.
Quarter scores: 26-8, 42-21, 60-38, 72-49.