Posted by: sportsandbeans | September 25, 2006

2006 UAAP Finals Game 1- A Gunslinger’s Tale =)

Migs ID by Migs

Game 1 of the 2006 UAAP Men’s Basketball Finals has come and gone. I had the privilege of being at the Araneta Coliseum to personally witness the momentous event. Whether or not you were clad in yellow or clad in blue during the game, all everyone could really say after 40 minutes of action were done was,

“Wow. What a game.”

And indeed it was the stuff of legend. It was a low scoring, defense-oriented match as expected, with the rival schools’ two main guns, Jervy Cruz for UST, and JC Intal for Ateneo, practically nullifying each other on offense. Support staffers like Chris Tiu and Jai Reyes (who scored 12 and 10 pts respecticely) and Anthony Espiritu and Allan Evangelista (who scored 11 and 13 pts respectively), practically canceled each other out too. UST clogged Ateneo’s passing lanes with brilliance, but at the same time, the Eagles played tough half-court defense as well. In short, the game would come down to which cowboy was a step slow at the sunset shootout.

On this day, it would be UST that would let things slip, and Doug Kramer who would exit the first salvo of the finals’ series a conquering hero, with a little help from his point guard, an amazing set play, and the thousands of Ateneo supporters in attendance who screamed like there was no tomorrow.

Doug Kramer found himself wide open for an easy layup off the glass with 1 second remaining in regulation as the Ateneo Blue Eagles downed the UST Growling Tigers, 73-72. The game’s final sequence was made even more breathtaking by the fact that Ateneo’s Macky Escalona had to make an inbounds pass over one of UST’s bigger players in the 6,5″ Chester Taylor. Escalona managed to lob a precise pass over Taylor outstretched arms towards his teammate who managed to get so much breathing space because of a screen and roll, feint play of sorts that head coach Norman Black pulled out of nowhere. For the information of all the sports fans out there, Coach Norman used that very same play when he called the shots for the San Miguel Beermen of the PBA back in the early 1990s. He used the play in a game against Swift, wherein the big man who benefited from the pick and roll back cut was “Robocop” Alvin Teng. Back then, I’m guessing the defense was guessing the ball would go into the hands of Ato Agustin or Samboy Lim. Fast forward to 2006, and you have a similar story with adorned with different names.

Just when everyone expected the Eagles’ win or loss to be etched beneath the name of JC Intal, or perhaps, sharpshooters Chris Tiu or Jai Reyes (Jai was the player who popped out when a high side screen was set), it was Kramer, who is known more for his rebounding and defensive prowess as opposed to his offensive skill, who did the Tigers in.

Fantastic stuff, not because of my school pride (I’m Atenean), but because the game was so evenly contested all throughout.

At least for now, the boys from Loyola Heights can celebrate the fact that they have an edge in the finals series and are a stone’s throw away from their first UAAP title since 2002. The UST Growling Tigers will be back in Game 2 though, that’s for sure. Their fate after the final horn sounds on Thursday afternoon, though, will be dependent on the squad’s initial approach to the the second round. Will their confidence be totally shattered when they take the court in a few days’ time? Will they be thristy for redemption? Will their thirst for redemption cause them to completely outplay the “Katipuneros” and bag a W, or, cause them to force the issue on both ends of the floor and invariably, let them fall into a state of disarray?

If UST wants to win Game 2, I feel they have to:

-Try to deny JC Intal the ball (easier said than done)…or perhaps, double teaming him partially off the zone might help.

-Be more consistent from the outside.

-Help Jervy Cruz and Allan Evangelista crash the boards.

-Make their free throws (Japs Cuan?).

-Stay cool under the bright lights, and along the premise of being on the verge of going home.

-Avoid giving up so many ticky-tack fouls (Dylan Ababou got into foul trouble early on and was more or less a non-factor throughout for most of the game).

Come Thursday, the Ateneo team (and faithful) will also be riding on one massive wave of emotion, feelings brought about by a resounding triumph. Will the win make the Eagles complacent? Can Ateneo find a way to win both in the realm of X’s and O’s (like I said earlier, I feel that UST did a decent job in congesting the Eagles’ passing lanes in Game 1)? Can JC Intal get more consistent help from his supporting cast, when it counts (although Jai Reyes scored 10 pts, and Doug Kramer, 14 pts plus the winning basket, it was JC who bailed Ateneo out time and time again when UST seemed to be ready to make a steady charge towards a dominant stretch)? Can Norman Black continue weaving his magic when the stakes are at their absolute highest?

If Ateneo wants to go home with the gold on Thursday, I think that they have to:

-Help the rocket fly (JC Intal needs help on offense and on the boards, especially when the passing lanes constrict, and especially when UST builds momentum towards reaching the finish line).

-Attempt to be more patient with ball movement (they threw up several errant jump shots in stretches wherein a closer shot could have been taken with an extra feed or two). With better ball movement comes more opportunities for higher percentage shots, and better positioning for rebounds.

-Avoid becoming too taken aback by bad calls from the officials (remember the Adamson game, people? And for you NBA fans out there, don’t forget what happened to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals once they began becoming too adamant about complaining about calls…they lost focus, and ultimately, the series).

-Make their shots from the charity stripe. In a series that is defined by defense, this CANNOT BE STRESSED ENOUGH.

-Try to keep Jervy Cruz and Allan Evangelista away from the shaded lane long enough for other Ateneans to block off passages for rebounds or be in the position for tips.

-Do not let the jitterbugs from the past get to their heads..or hearts.

-Minimize turnovers.

For our friends out there in netlandia who missed Game 1 of the UAAP Finals, do feel free to relive the final 23.0 seconds of regulation via the link contained in my buddy Milo’s article “The Norman Black Effect”. It’s within the aforementioned amount of time that one was declared the victor, and the other, was humbled in defeat, but vowed, in the end, to return stronger than before.

For one team, it’s now or never, for another, it’s their first crack at claiming glory. Both squads have the unenviable task of surmounting the enormity of the passion ensuing from the previous encounter- passion flowing from opposite directions, from a win, and a loss. An onlooker can only hope that at the end of the battle, at the cessation of hostilities and the quelling of fury, will come mutual respect- for every combatant who marched forth and for the game in itself. With taking on pride, comes learning to take understand what it means to harness humility.

It’s all beautiful, it truly is. I, along with many others, simply cannot wait for the ruckus that’s bound to blow the roof off the big dome in 3 days and change.

All my buddies and I have to do now is take affirmative action and score tickets now, so we can sleep well for the next 2 nights or so. May the “grittiest”, and “steadiest” school, prevail. =)

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