UAAP Season 75 Game 9: Ateneo Blasts FEU Gauntlet
By Joseph W Buduan
Pictures by Philip Sison of Fabilioh.com
SMOA Arena, 29 August 2012 – One of the oldest adages in sports is that a good rivalry will always make for a successful sporting event. After all, nothing gets the competitive juices stirring and running more than the thought of sticking it to a vociferous rival. In the UAAP that rivalry is Ateneo versus Lasalle. Over the last four years however, with the Blue Eagles on a rampaging title reign, a few other schools have started their own rivalry with the reigning champions. Far Eastern University, runners up over the last two UAAP seasons to the Ateneo, finally had enough and decided to exact some old-school payback in their second round encounter. Unfortunately for the Tamaraws, championship poise is not some locker room myth, and the Blue Eagles showed plenty of it on their way to a 77-64 victory on a rainy Wednesday evening.
It looked like this game would turn into an early rout as the Ateneo raced to an 11-0 lead right in the opening period. Nico Salva made six freethrows to open up the jackrabbit start. Salva however was sent to the foul line so many times with barely three minutes into the game because Mac Belo, a tough rookie forward for FEU, was landing all manner of cheap shots on the veteran Ateneo forward. “I think I got hit about four times,” Salva said after the game. He kept his cool though and just played on.
The same could not be said for his fellow veteran teammate Ryan Buenafe, who was in his first start of this season. Seeing quite clearly that the Tamaraws were going to turn the game into basketball’s version of a royal rumble, Buenafe promptly exacted some payback by fouling American import Anthony Hargrove and sending the 6-foot-6 center to the floor, clutching his arm in pain. Buenafe was whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul. Belo, who probably had not heard of Buenafe, then bumped Buenafe whilst standing up for his fallen teammate. Buenafe, never one to take that kind of business from anybody, clearly cocked a fist at Belo before Salva restrained him. Arvie Bringas, formerly of Lasalle and Buenafe’s high school teammate, also stepped in to cool off Buenafe. Both Belo and Buenafe were subsequently tossed from the game for each incurring one unsportsmanlike foul and one technical foul.
Meanwhile FEU made its own run at the Ateneo lead behind Terrence Romeo, Roger Pogoy and RR Garcia. By the end of the opening period it was a slim 15-13 lead for the reigning champions.
FEU quickly turned things around in the second period even as the game continued on its chippy path. A Ryan Mendoza transition layup suddenly made it 15-17 for FEU. That lead became as much as 17-24 behind Romeo, Garcia, Hargrove and Pogoy. Greg Slaughter was having a hard time maneuvering against the burly Bringas brothers in the low blocks and could not really get his game going. Kiefer Ravena however returned right in time and brought the Ateneo within 21-24. Buenafe meanwhile was watching the game in the press room as the dugouts did not have any TV sets. Although he was cheering on his team, he was clearly still in a foul mood. It turned into a game of runs as FEU once again pulled away only to have Ravena respond and still make a game of it. FEU brought a slim 32-34 lead into the lemon time break. “We know FEU is a physical team and an aggressive team,” said head coach Norman Black. Sure enough three unsportsmanlike fouls and two technical fouls were already called in the first half alone.
In the critical third period, Ravena kept up the pressure as he, Poy Erram and Salva instigated a new run to restore the lead to the Ateneo at 37-34. Erram was making hay off both boards and bothering enemy shots with his long arms and darting hands. Von Pessumal also got to see significant minutes as he was tasked to shadow the prolific Romeo. Pessumal knows Romeo well as the two were teammates on Eric Altamirano’s RP Youth Team along with Ravena. “I was just happy to get the opportunity to play,” Pessumal said simply after the game. Ravena and Juami Tiongson then nailed a cluster of three-point shots to make it 43-37. Garcia responded with a trey of his own to bring the Tamaraws within 43-40. The Ateneo held on to the 49-43 lead at the end of this quarter.
FEU was once again looking at a very familiar sight, being down to the Ateneo in a crucial game. As the payoff fourth period got going, the Tamaraws would simply unravel and resort to all manner of cheap shots and out and out crassness. Slaughter finally found a rhythm and clustered six points all in the paint and all with Bringas all over him as the Ateneo established a 53-44 cushion early in the quarter. Garcia was trying to keep FEU in the game with heads-up scoring but was getting little help from his teammates who all seemed to have other things in mind.
The Bringas finally buried his own side with an act straight out of the gutters of Bilibid Viejo: he was caught on camera hurling a spit bomb at Justin Chua. He was of course slapped a disqualifying foul and promptly joined Belo in the FEU dugout. The FEU coaching staff was up in arms. They quieted down as quickly as they rose up when the TV crew showed the egregious spitting right on the high definition cube of the SMOA Arena. Tiongson hit another trey as soon as action resumed to give the Ateneo its biggest lead at 65-48. FEU would not recover. Romeo tried to play hero ball and once again neglected the rest of his team. “Garcia was open and Romeo chose not to get him the ball,” TV analyst TJ Manotoc said.
Even with the game all but wrapped up, FEU was still trying to get their licks in. Chua had to be pulled out of the game with some eight seconds left as he was getting into a little tussle with FEU bench warmer Jon Guerrero. Guerrero planted an elbow into Nico Elorde and Elorde looked ready to assume a boxer’s stance and deliver a haymaker. Tonino Gonzaga held on to the ball until the final buzzer.
In the singing of school songs, the gravity of the dirty plays simply got the better of the Ateneo gallery. For the first time in perhaps the last decade, the Blue and White crowd openly hissed, booed and dissed an opponent while the opponent’s school song was being played and sung. To the eternal credit of the team, they were waving at the gallery to cease and desist.
Tiongson wound up with his first Best Player citation by leading the Ateneo with 16 points. Salva added 15 while Ravena had 12. This was the seventh straight victory of the Ateneo over FEU dating back to the 2010 UAAP Finals. Pessumal’s defense held Romeo to a combined 0-7 over this season’s two regular season games.
Garcia had 14 points for FEU while Romeo added 13.
Bringas will serve a two-game suspension. Erram meanwhile did not escape the League Commissioner. After a review of the game he was assessed an unsportsmanlike foul and will serve a one-game suspension as well. This after-the-fact league judgment drew vast criticism from the Ateneo community as fouls missed by officials during games are deemed judgment calls and thus not supposed to be subject to a de facto overturn.
Alumni Snapshots of the Game