Battle of Katipunan Round 1: A post mortem

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Editor’s note: Mikee Reyes is a former UAAP player with the UP Fighting Maroons. He also played in the NCAA juniors for the La Salle Greenhills Greenies after spending his primary years playing and studying in Ateneo. He is now part of the UAAP and NCAA broadcast teams, and is a resident basketball analyst for CNN Philippines Sports Desk.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Yesterday’s game was, by far, the hottest ticket in Philippine basketball this year. Around 20,000 people squeezed themselves in Araneta to cheer for their school, with many more thousands tuned in at home.

The hype was felt around the basketball world, as the UP Fighting Maroons, with their new star-studded lineup, was out for revenge for last year’s sweep in the finals against the mighty Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Well, we all know what happened, Ateneo came out with their most lopsided victory of the season, 89-63, notching their 17th consecutive win in the UAAP, dating back to Season 81.

Over the weekend, I tried to break down Ateneo’s brand of basketball, to be able to see where UP could attack and give themselves a chance to accomplish what no other team has this season. Like I said, it was tough to find something you could call a WEAKNESS in Ateneo’s game, but at least an area UP could maybe pounce on and take advantage of? Let’s try to take a look how UP fared in those so-called “weaknesses”.

Defensively, it looked like UP had a better chance of winning if Ateneo was to shoot from the outside. Again, through their first 6 games, Ateneo was the worst in the league in terms of connecting from deep. They only made 22.11 percent of those shots, which obviously meant Ateneo got most of their points inside.

I already said that if an Isko had a choice between a Blue Eagle pulling from deep, or an Atenean slashing through the lane, a Maroon would have a better shot at a defensive rebound with the former.

In yesterday’s game, it showed exactly that.

Ateneo made seven 3’s, but having to jack up 27 shots to do so. 26 percent is a little better than their usual 22 percent, but still not the kind of shooting that would make Coach Tab happy.

Although the Eagles have yet to find their touch, their inside game was again dominant yesterday. Scoring 58 or their 89 points from within the 3-point line, it just proved that, yes, UP had a better chance had they kept the Ateneans from the paint. Easier said than done, especially with Bright in foul trouble, but that’s something they had to live with throughout most of the game.

On the other side of the floor, I claimed that Ateneo’s defense was built to stop a team like UP. The Fighting Maroons needed to come out with something different from their first 6 games to give themselves a better chance in handing Ateneo their first loss in 17 games.

Like Ateneo, UP has been struggling from deep this season. But even if the 3-ball hasn’t been nice to them, the talent in that team is unmatched. With the ability to break defenders down and create shots, the Maroons get most of their points in the paint, via the charity stripe or by pushing the tempo. They lead the league in all three categories, 37.67, 14.5, and 11.83, respectively.

To prove what I said about Ateneo’s defense against a team like UP, all three categories that UP has leaned on for offense this season, Ateneo, on the other hand, has been second-to-none in containing those. First in the league in points in the paint allowed, fastbreak points allowed, and freethrows allowed, the Ateneo Blue Eagles simply didn’t need to adjust their defense for the Maroons.

In the first quarter of yesterday’s matchup, in which we saw the Maroons up by 6 at the end, UP dominated the inside battle with 12 points in the paint. As for the next 3 quarters? They only scored 16 more.

Freethrow story? It was in the 3rd quarter when Kobe put his head down and went to the foul line 8 times. UP, as a unit, had 15 freethrows in that 3rd period, converting 10 of those. In the other 3 quarters, 6/7.

Despite the struggles in the paint, UP ran the ball pretty well, matching their average of 12 fastbreak points per game.

But at the end of the day, UP needed to hit from the outside to create space down low for Bright and their slashers. Because of foul trouble and the wall Kouame built, who had 7 of his team’s 9 blocks, it was tough for the reigning MVP to get his game going.

Thinking about it again, what was the lone team that posed a serious threat against the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the first round? The UST Growling Tigers. The Tigers, being the best offensive team in the league, and also the best 3-point shooting team in the league, lost to Ateneo by a single point. UST went 9/21 from the arc in that game, but still wasn’t good enough to squeak out a victory.

Different from how UST plays, the Maroons, yesterday, only had 3 long distance bombs to show for. They went 3/15 from beyond the arc, which simply isn’t enough to attract the attention of the Ateneans.

Ultimately, it wasn’t the exciting wire-to-wire game we were anticipating and hoping for, but we sure learned a lot from yesterday’s finals rematch.

First, Ateneo is simply just on another level. It may be boring to some viewers, but to those who understand and enjoy the beauty of team basketball, I’m sure there’s nothing more exciting than catching this Blue Eagles squad play. We’ve been accustomed to breakdown basketball, a lot of isolations and individual play, we are finally introduced to this new and effective style of play.

Ateneo dominated the field in the first round, and we can expect the same as they start their second half of the season on Saturday.

As for UP, standing at 5-2, right behind Ateneo, I don’t know what more you can ask of this team. After suffering a wake-up call, care of the UST Growling Tigers, in their second game, along with the entry of Kobe Paras, UP went on a 4-game winning streak to send a statement to all the other teams.

And even with second-best record in the league, things will only get better for the Diliman-based squad. Bright will continue to anchor the paint, and hopefully find a way to contain Kouame for their next matchup. Kobe will stay Kobe-ing. It’ll only take time until we finally see the Ricci and Juan of old.

Jun and Javi will eventually find their way into this star-studded lineup. The likes of Tungcab, Murrell and Webb will continue to give quality minutes. And you never know, will all that talent in that roster, someone can just suddenly breakout. Former NCAA Juniors MVP Will Gozum, maybe?

Ultimately, it has been a successful first round for the UP Fighting Maroons. Yes, they did lose by 26 big points to the defending champions. But we’re talking about the mighty Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Eventually, a team will figure the Blue Eagles out and find a way to beat them, and I’m sure the whole UP community is hoping and praying that team would be theirs.

But, with all the recent success of the Fighting Maroons, people tend to forget where this team came from. This was the same team that just 5 years ago celebrated a win with a bonfire. From participating in a “Finals” game between the winless Soaring Falcons and the winless Fighting Maroons to the school’s first legitimate UAAP Finals appearance since ’86, to their best start since Paolo Mendoza donned their colors, the climb continues for the Bo Perasol-led squad.

Yesterday’s Battle of Katipunan may not have been the perfectly officiated game, but none of those calls gave Ateneo 26 extra points. The loss definitely wasn’t easy for the Fighting Maroons and the whole UP community, but rather than dwelling on it, maybe it’s better to appreciate what’s right in front of you, something the other 6 teams would love to have. 5-2, solo 2nd place, and 7 more games to round up the season.

Battle of Katipunan Round 1 ended yesterday. Ateneo came out on top.

Now that emotions have simmered down and teams are given a week to regroup and recover.

Coach Bo Perasol and Coach Tab Baldwin have bigger things in mind, a UAAP championship.