September 17, 2009

Ateneo vs. UST: One big bulldozing win?

We begin with the #1 vs. #4 matchup in this year's UAAP Final Four: the defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles and UST Growling Tigers. I was tempted to say "2006 champions" but seriously, it doesn't matter now.

Unless you ask Dylan Ababou.
In the two games played between the two teams, Ateneo won both by double-digits 93-77 and 80-70. In the first round, both teams faced off undefeated with the teams sporting 2-0 records. Ateneo gave UST their first loss, with Monfort having the game-high 20 points, with Maliksi scoring the same in a losing effort. Al-Hussaini had a "bad" game, scoring 13 points and only grabbing 4 boards. Salamat came off the bench with 5 dimes, and that spelled the difference and his playmaking off-the-bench sustained the Ateneo run deep in the second quarter. Although UST scored 10 treys, the no Tiger broke the .500 2-pt. FG percentage except Fortuna who went 1/2 (he also had 4 TOs). The Tigers had an awful time inside the paint and the Eagles had 28 rebounds off those UST misses, although UST did have 18 second-chance points.

In the second game, the Tigers approved somewhat, with four players above .500 in the 2-point area. But just like in the second game, the Eagles sustained their attack, with a shoo-in 6th man of the year, if such award existed in the UAAP, Eric Salamat scoring 7 points and dishing four assists, and Kirk Long top-scoring with 21 points, with a torrid 5/6 from three-point land. The game had 10 deadlocks but the Tigers weren't able to lead and eventually ran out of gas.

So what should UST do to barge into the Finals? First, they should establish an inside presence. But with behemoths Al-Hussaini and Nonoy Baclao at the post, the Tigers bigs must devise a way to penetrate their way towards the hoop. Putting these two guys in foul trouble may help.

What makes Ateneo awesome is that they have an inside-outside game. When their bigs fail to make an impact, their endless supply of guards plays a big game outta nowhere. This is where UST's perimeter defense steps in -- guard the three-point line. It seems that it may be a better idea to let the bigs have a field day down low. But then again if the guards have a bad shooting night, it may be a better idea to gang up the Ateneo's bigs.

Another way of minimizing Ateneo's strengths is by having a back-up at the backcourt; make sure two guards sprint down in defense when Eric Salamat starts running the transition. You may have reduce the rebounding numbers but in this case, with Baclao and Al-Hussaini in town, you might as well surrender that.

For Ateneo, their defensive strategy is simplified: shut down UST's shooting. If they do that, life will be easier as they can run the break and score easy points. Shut down the paint and make Ababou bleed for their points. Pressure UST's guards and make them commit turnovers. Do that and they're in the Finals. Sustain the offense and let the Tigers tire themselves out and bring out the finishing kick; the Tigers have a short bench and if the game is within reach for the Tigers they'll lose gas.

Even when they don't have the twice-to-beat advantage, Ateneo is the favorite, but if the breaks go their way, and they pace themselves well, the Tigers have a fighting chance to extend the series to a second game.

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