When the 75th season of the UAAP was on the homestretch, a lot of Ateneans were praying that either FEU or NU would make it to the finals since we have beaten them convincingly the past three years. But as fate had it, in the last season of Coach Norman Black he was given the chance to redeem himself and avenge his only finals loss to a team that is by nature all heart and almost similar to the team his 2006 Blue Eagles lost to – the UST Growling Tigers. Early in the season assistant coach Gene Afable told me that this team is the hardest to motivate and rightfully so the loss to UST in the first round was a good motivation for team because finally the team has found a worthy adversary in the UAAP finals. In the last four finals that the Blue Eagles played, the average winning margin against DLSU in 2008 was 9.5, UE in 2009 was 10, FEU in 2010 was 13 and FEU in 2011 15. Their 5 point win in game 1 was their lowest lead in a championship opener in the last 5 years.
The Avenger - Coach Norman
Vengeance was the plot that a lot of scribes were writing about as they said Coach Norman‘s team was out to avenge their 2006 loss to the Growling Tigers. But Coach Norman was quick to answer “ none of my players were on that team!” But looking at some subplots, some of the players had payback on their mind on some of the Growling Tigers for one. Kiefer Ravena, Juami Tiongson and Frank Golla were part of the 2007 team that lost to the DLSZ Junior Archers that was bannered by UST’s ace point guard. On the other side of the fence, Justin Chua’s senior year in the Tong Lian tournament was foiled by a then junior scorer from Xavier who is now the King Tiger. As they say, getting back at your tormentor is one of the most gratifying emotions one could ever feel.
Nico Salva, Finals MVP
The Ateneo Blue Eagles rewrote history by capturing its fifth straight UAAP Seniors basketball title by defeating the UST Growling Tigers 65 – 62 in game 2 of the UAAP Finals at the SMART Araneta Coliseum. The win was a fitting send-off to the five players who have used up their eligibility with Salva, Chua and Gonzaga being there in all five teams and to their Coach Norman Black who will go back to the PBA to coach the Talk and Text team. With the win, Coach Norman has slewed the ghost of 2006, the only Ateneo title run that has haunted him and for some it was 2006 all over again the way the Tigers came back in the game but Coach Norman is wiser this time and happier as he leaves a legacy that all Ateneans are praying would happen again in the future.
Kiefer Ravena flies high
The other subplot in the Ateneo – UST tussle made Kiefer Ravena, Frank Golla and Juami Tiongson pumped up to get back at the remaining main man of that 2007 DLSZ team that beat them– Jeric Fortuna. On the other hand Justin Chua’s grand exit in High School was foiled by the other Jeric – Jeric Teng. As fate would have it, Juami, Kiefer and Jeric would provide endgame heroics to their respective teams with neither one buckling and no one giving up. Juami Tiongson was the budding star of the 2007 Blue Eaglets then but back then he seemed to be always out of control, this time around he paced his game well and more importantly made shots that mattered the most like his back to back baskets in Game 1, fortunately all of Juami's heroics came during crunch time.
Juami shows the Magic of Tiongson
After his Game 1 heroics once again Juami showed what stuff he is now made off when crunch time came. In the fourth quarter with less than 90 seconds to play the ball rotated to Juami who was at the three point area. With the time winding down the last four seconds, Juami faked off Kevin Ferrer and with time winding down to 2 seconds the man they call Magic Tiongson scored off a running shot to push the Men in Blue ahead 62 -58. After free throw exchanges, it was Kieferime this time as Kiefer who was being guarded by Clark Bautista made a crossover move to give hime some driving space as he surged ahead, stepped back and elevated to score to make the count 65 -59 with 50 seconds left. Not to be out done, Jeric Fortuna who was sizzling all night long let go a three pointer that hit the back board and went in and just like that the Tigers were back in the ball game 62 – 65. In the ensuing play, Juami Tiongson was about to ice the game with two free throws but uncharacteristically missed both to give the Tigers another chance to tie the game. In 2007 the Junior Archers forced overtime after a buzzer beating three pointer, they eventually won that game. With that in mind, Tiongson made up for his flubbed freebies by covering Fortuna well and stealing the pass by Clark Bautista to send the Ateneo crowd into howls of victory as the Blue and white has come alive as the drive for five is now reality.
The drive for five would have not been realized if not for the efforts of the 34 players who have don the Blue and White the past five years with Nico Salva, Justin Chua and Zags Gonzaga playing in all those five teams. Ryan Buenafe, Juami Tiongson and Frank Golla can follow it up next year. But for now, Nico Salva is on top of the UAAP as he has been voted as the first back to back Finals MVP since the inception of the award in 2001. Nico scored 30 points in game one and 8 points in game two and the missing piece in Game 1, Greg Slaughter rebounded from a subpar game to score 15 points and hauled down 11 rebounds.
Ryan posts up
Ryan Buenafe on the other hand had to battle tonsilitis and his body was not 100% come game time. But just like any seasoned veteran, he played like he was about to score so that he can attract a double team or other defenders for him to give a good pass to an open team mate. The Buenafe pass of the day was when he took a shot and when it hit the front rim and was about to go out of bounds, Ryan chased the ball and with him almost going down he was able to see a cutting Greg Slaughter who got the pass and was able to finish the play. These intangibles are what makes the Ateneo Blue Eagles the best the past five years and as an era ends, another window opens for the Blue and White. Next year they will not be favored which will work to their favor but before we go into that, lets congratulate the five peat champions once again, Ladies and Gentlemen,the 2012 UAAP Seniors Basketball Champions - the Ateneo Blue Eagles. As i have said all season long, Ateneo, Come Alive, Feel the vibe, Glori-5!!!
Ravena 22, Slaughter 15, Tiongson 10, Salva 8, Chua 6, Gonzaga 3, Sumalinog 1, Buenafe 0, Elorde 0, Golla 0,
Fortuna 20, Teng 9, Lo 8, Abdul 8, Ferrer 7, Bautista 6, Mariano 4, Vigil 0, Pe 0, Afuang 0
Quarterscores: 13 – 14, 29 – 29, 47 – 46, 65 - 62
Ateneo: Come Alive, Feel the Vibe