The View From the Armchair: Game 7 vs Ateneo

What could you say about yesterday’s cliffhanger of a game with Ateneo, where we lost by 4 points in overtime? I read that “Ateneo won, but we didn’t lose”, and “we gave it away”. Some of our supporters have described it as was a “feel good” loss. Feel good loss? How can you feel good about a loss? Isn’t that a paradox?

But if you think about it, yeah, many of us didn’t feel bad even though our Archers lost yesterday to our arch-rival. Our young team unexpectedly held the much more experienced Blue Eagles to a standoff after 40 minutes of regulation play, after dominating the middle quarters. As in close games, a missed ft or fg, if converted, could have made all the difference, but that’s water under the bridge.

What the team did right

The Green Archers shocked the complacent Blue Eagles with the high octane offense and defense. They repeatedly attacked the much vaunted Ateneo interior defense, led by Joshua’s daredevil drives. After Al-Husseini erupted for 10 points in the first quarter, they stymied him by double teaming just before he could execute his turnaround moves, and assigned Yutien to cover him whenever he took off for a jumper. Yutien took away the game of last year’s MVP with 2 clear blocks and stole the ball from him twice. So frustrated was Al-Husseini that he committed an unsportsmanlike foul on Yutien.

The Archers battled the Blue Eagles to a draw on the rebounding front with both teams collaring 42 rebounds, and had a slight edge on steals, 6-5. Surprisingly, we had more blocks, 5-4, and Yutien showed why he was selected by the coaches despite his slight physique. Jovet strung together 6 consecutive points in the first half, displayed some good moves including a mid-range jumper, and showed why he was a prized recruit last year.

3 out of the first 7 games of the Archers were overtime games, of which they won 2. That’s the most of any team in this year’s tournament. That experience will help them in future games.

Team rebounding continued to do well. Veterans James and Bader may not have scored well, but they helped defensively and helped out on the board work with 9 rebounds between them. Bader succeeded in picking the pocket of the Blue Eagles twice aside from ably defending the Ateneo guards.

What wasn’t quite right

The momentary lapses of concentration recurred, and these were punished by the alert Blue Eagles. Twice Reyes used the slightest hesitation from our defenders on the pick-and-roll to sink 3pointers that allowed Ateneo to cut the deficit to a single basket. The pressure defense almost always forced the Blue Eagles to almost use up their shot clock, but still allowed Ateneo to score. Our boxing out wasn’t so effective, allowing 14 offensive boards by the opponents which were converted into 8 second chance points. There is still some more work needed on defense, particularly on those high pick-and-rolls to prevent the shooter from getting enough shooting space. The standard Ateneo sets against the zone defense were effective in the final plays as well, allowing short jumpers and follow up rebounds.

There was still some hesitation on the part of our players on offense, except Joshua who repeatedly penetrated the stunned Ateneo defense. James passed up on open shots he would normally make and elected to take more difficult shots. After hitting those treys against UST, Peejay fired mostly blanks yesterday. Kish continued his heady play but committed a couple of lapses on offense. There were also a couple of lazy passes that were snared or tipped by the Ateneo defenders. Hyram forgot the quick hands of Salamat and had his pocket picked, but made up for it with that buzzer beater to force the overtime. And the team played not to lose after building that 10point lead, stopped playing aggressively, and permitted Ateneo to get back in the game.

The rookie watch

Arvie followed up his great performance against UST with another double-digit scoring game, hit a couple of treys, and topped our rebounding list with 6. Sam played sparingly, but hit a triple in the first quarter. Joel played only 2 minutes but connected on his only fg attempt. Yutien was the revelation yesterday, holding his own against the vaunted frontline of Ateneo, blocking 3 shots, and even scoring on a nifty finger roll. Gab and Jed did not play yesterday.

The outlook for the second round

The Archers continued to improve on a game-to-game basis. After outlasting UST in double overtime, the Archers were dragged into another overtime. These two games show that the Archers can put together explosive sequences of plays to take the lead as well as play catch up. They now also have to be ready whenever the opponents make their own runs, by avoiding “playing not to lose” and continuing what they were doing well. Teamwork on offense and defense still needs a bit of fine tuning – we only had 13 assists out of 26 fgs, and there were some moments of hesitation on defense which Ateneo was able to capitalize on.

Some will contend that Ateneo played below 80% yet beat the Archers, who played at 110%. Probably kinda accurate, at least regarding the 80%. But if you think about it, some of the difficulty the Blue Eagles encountered was due to the efforts of the Archers. Without that pressure, Ateneo would probably have played their A-game from the opening tip. So the defense has continued to improve.

Perceptions will vary, depending on which school you side with. Many green supporters are convinced that the green-and-white team played beyond themselves yesterday. I think not. Some of our players didn’t contribute much yesterday, but others stepped up to keep the game close and competitive. I feel that the Archers aren’t at their peak yet, so we might have seen something like 75-80% of their true potential. The team has not yet had a game where they were firing on all cylinders. Their game is still growing, still evolving, but they are starting to master their roles. It may still take a couple of games more before they start hitting their stride. And some players still have to find their rhythm on a consistent basis. So if you look at it, there’s still a lot of upside to this team.

The thing is, I suspect that there is a possibility that our team could still be pulling its punches. Getting to the final 4 is the first objective, and all that’s needed is to compile enough wins to get there. It’s not necessary to win every game at this point. So there’s still time and a few games to learn, fine tune, and tweak. In contrast, we’ve probably already seen the best of the other teams, and their performance will probably plateau out from here on.

We’re at 4-3 to start the 2nd round, 2 games behind FEU and Ateneo, with UE and UST crowding us. If we merely duplicate our win-loss performance, we’ll end up with an 8-6 record tally, enough to get us to the final 4 or at least gain a playoff for that berth. If we go 5-2 which is possible if they continue their improvement, we finish at 9-5 and have a shot at the twice-to-beat advantage. Because of all this uncertainty, the 2nd round will be interesting, exciting, and nerve wracking. So come and watch the games live, don’t blink because you might just miss something that the team has been keeping under wraps until now.