The summer collegiate hoops season officially got underway yesterday with the opening games of Filoil Flying V Preseason Hanes Cup at the San Juan Arena.
The reigning champions of the two major collegiate leagues, the Ateneo Blue Eagles of the UAAP and the San Beda Red Lions of the NCAA, launched their respective campaigns on a bright note by downing separate rivals. The Blue Eagles, starring man-mountain Greg Slaughter, turned to their defense in the end game to repulse a gritty Letran side, 55-51, while the Red Lions ushered in the Ronnie Magsanoc era with a 69-63 victory over the De La Salle Green Archers.
First game: Ateneo 55, Letran 51
The Blue Eagles appeared to be on their way to an easy victory, posting a 31-21 halftime advantage and leading 39-28 midway through the third period. The Knights, though, cut the deficit to just three, 45-42, heading into the payoff period. During Letran's run, the comebacking Ryan Buenafe was on the court, and it was obvious he has some major catching up to do. He threw two wild passes and committed an offensive foul, and outside of his three assists, his 13-minute stint on the floor was pretty much forgettable as he is still feeling his way around.
"Talent level, there's no question about that," said assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, who called the shots in the absence of Norman Black, when asked about Buenafe's first real action since Game 2 of the '10 finals. "The questions for now are conditioning, that's one, and two, of course, he also has some adjusting to do with his teammates."
Letran kept it close thanks to timely baskets from point guard Mark Cruz (younger brother of UP's Marvin), and finally tied it up at 49 courtesy of a basket by Carlo Lituania with five minutes left. A timely triple by Tonino Gonzaga gave the Eagles much-needed breathing room at 52-49 as the Eagles struggled on offense with Slaughter taking a breather on the bench. Kevin Racal scored on a drive and was fouled, but he muffed the free throw that would have brought Letran level again with 3:57 left.
The Knights came up with some huge defensive stops, forcing Ateneo into two 24-second violations, stealing the ball twice and blocking a shot, but they just couldn't get over the hump down the stretch as Slaughter also came up big on defense. Slaughter's two free throws made it 54-51, and then Jonathan Belorio blew a wide-open layup that could've cut the lead down again to one.
Letran gave itself one more chance after forcing Ateneo into another shot clock violation, but Slaughter snuffed out Belorio's shot to pretty much settle the outcome. Kiefer Ravena put the finishing touches on the tough win with a split with 12 seconds left.
"Coach Norman was sure our offense would be a bit rusty and wouldn't be as smooth, but he wanted emphasis on defense," said Coach Sandy. "I think we were able to do that. Of course, it would have been better if we had better offense, but we recognize that we really haven't jelled that well offensively.
Black is in the United States attending a coaching clinic and will be back next week.
Second game: San Beda 69, La Salle 63
This clash gave observers an early glimpse off some highly-touted rookies from both teams: Julius Armon and Ola Adeogun of the Red Lions and Jeron Teng of the Green Archers.
La Salle got off to a quick 6-0 lead, but San Beda responded with a 17-2 run that more or less set the tone for the rest of the game. The Red Lions led 31-22 at the half and 49-34 after three periods as Anjo Caram waxed hot from the outside and Adeogun controlled the boards. The lead reached a high of 17 after Adeogun's basket to start the fourth.
The Green Archers made one last run, cutting the lead to five with 42 seconds left courtesy of LA Revilla's triple and steal, but San Beda hung on to seal the win.
Armon, a wiry and athletic swingman, proved to be capable on both offensive and defensive ends, scoring 11 points and helping harass Teng into 2-of-8 shooting. Adeogun finished with a double-double of 10 points and 13 boards.
Teng undoubtedly has some moves, but sometimes forced the action a bit too much. He finished with eight points in 14 minutes of action. Another rookie, Mark Tallo, subbed for him in the last few minutes and helped DLSU cut San Beda's 14-point lead in the last minute.
Magsanoc, who took over from Frankie Lim barely three weeks ago, kept things simple on offense and let the boys run Lim's playbook for the meantime. They also ran the break every chance they got and basically letting their defense control the game.
"I was telling my boys that six days is not enough to establish our offense, but six days is enough for us to be able to establish our philosophy on defense," said the former Red Cub, who has only conducted six practices with the team since taking over. "I think it was those stops in the end that won the game. Never mind the 14-point lead. We made a boo-boo with that unsportsmanlike foul (on Jake Pascual) that gave them a new lease on life, but eventually it was those two stops in the end game that did it for us. It's a relief and a good start, and I'm really proud of the boys and how they exerted the effort.
"Everything on offense is still Coach Frankie. Of course, the situationals are different. But this is no longer the powerhouse roster. Wala na sina Dave (Marcelo), wala si Gabo (Lanete), wala na si (Jess Mar) Villahermosa, wala na iyong Semerads. Iyong limang iyon ang nagpanalo. So we have to work harder."
For La Salle, one positive to take away from the game was the play of big man Norbert Torres. Dismissed as too passive and too reliant on outside shooting in the last UAAP season, Torres did his best to try and match up with the bigger Ageodun , finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds. And even though he only played eight minutes, Tallo was also pretty impressive during his brief stint on the floor.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Sid_Ventura.