Eagles use muscle, hustle

Ateneo's Greg Slaughter squares up against NU's Emmanuel Mbe. (NPPA Images)

Ateneo quickly erased all doubts about its title-retention capability following its 70-71 loss to UST.  In what many believed to be a preview of this year's UAAP Finals, the Blue Eagles totally obliterated the NU Bulldogs, 89-65, in their match up yesterday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The strategy was very clear from the get-go.  The Eagles persistently went to their big men at the post, which gave the Bulldogs a defensive nightmare.  Nico Salva, Greg Slaughter and Justin Chua combined for 36 points inside the paint, on a 55% shooting clip (18/33).  Coach Norman Black knew NU would have a tough time matching up with his giant frontline.  Emmanuel Mbe was the only Bulldog slugging it out with the Eagles inside, with 14 markers and 6 boards.  Ateneo also outrebounded NU, 44-35.

The ploy of consistently hitting the post worked wonders for the Eagles, and paved the way for an early lead.  Both Slaughter and Chua displayed their post moves.  And when they were doubled, Salva would dive inside to score on easy lay-ups.

But the offense was not just the key factor for Ateneo.  It was also the Eagles' tight half-court defense that made life hellish for the Bulldogs.  Last year's MVP Bobby Ray Parks still had his usual big numbers, with 22 points.  But he was 0 of 6 from beyond the arc.  The Eagles kept applying the pressure and disrupted most of NU's offensive patterns, forcing this year's host school to commit several turnovers.  In the process, the defending champions scored 16 turnover points.

What compounded the Bulldogs even more was the sub-par performance of key players.  Mark de Guzman and Joshua Alolino, who were both impressive in the Fil-Oil pre-season tournament, only managed two points each.  Even worse were Jeoffrey Javillonar who had a solitary point, and Kyle Neypes who was held scoreless.

The Bulldogs were nowhere near the same form as when they dominated the Fil-Oil Cup, which they won with an unblemished record.  While it's true the Blue Eagles have the advantage in experience, more than anything, it was their proper use of the height advantage that became the big difference in this game.

It was the first real test for Coach Eric Altamirano's wards this season, after they wiped out the UE Warriors, 90-55, on opening day.

Fortunately for NU, the wake up call came early as it did with Ateneo.  The Blue Eagles bounced back hard after the shocking loss to the Tigers.  And so will the Bulldogs.

Meanwhile, the FEU Tamaraws remain the only undefeated team after surviving the La Salle Green Archers, 48-46, in a low-scoring contest.  Halftime had DLSU on top, 26-23.  Only Terrence Romeo of FEU scored in double figures, with 10 points.  Four Archers — Yutien Andrada, Almond Vosotros, Jovet Mendoza and Norbert Torres — had eight points each.

It was an awesome display of defensive prowess from both squads.  However, in the end, the team that had better poise prevailed.

Michael Tolomia became the surprise hero for FEU as he connected on a gut-wrenching jumper with just 47.6 ticks remaining in the game, to break a 46-all deadlock.  Then in the last 12.8 seconds with the Archers in possession, Mark Tallo was shackled by FEU's backcourt, forcing him to make a late pass to Vosotros, who had to take a long heave from beyond the arc to beat the buzzer, but missed.

La Salle clearly missed the services of main point guard LA Revilla, who was still nursing an injury even when suited up for the game.  Revilla usually takes the big shots for the Archers, and he would have been the go-to-guy in the dying seconds of this game.

Both the Tamaraws and Archers will need to bolster their offense when they face the Eagles and Bulldogs.  They need a more balanced attack unlike what we saw in yesterday's action.

FEU cannot always rely on its talented guards like RR Garcia, Romeo and Tolomia.  Its post players must do their share.  Against DLSU, the Tamaraws went to several one-on-one plays.  Fortunately for them, Tolomia succeeded with his clear out play against rookie Jeron Teng.  When they play a great defensive team like Ateneo, the Tamaraws must have better ball movement.

As for La Salle, an up-tempo game is ideal to perk up its offense.  After all, the Archers have a very deep bench so they can afford to run.  It might also do them some good if they sometimes return to their old full-court pressing ways.  The full-court traps that the Archers were known for in years could open more scoring opportunities for them.  And with a 12-man deep rotation, La Salle can always have fresh legs on the floor.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.