The word that can best be described for Far Eastern University’s (FEU) win over Ateneo to force a Game Two in their semi-finals series is “desire”.
No, this isn’t experience or a veteran leading the way. It’s all about desire. It was about a desire to extend their season and probably defend the championship. Rebounding and defense is all about desire and FEU corralled those categories that cannot be measured totally in statistics.
The Tamaraws scored 36 points inside and only scored six points from the perimeter. Their other 20 points came from free throws. That shows a team that went to its strength and game plan.
To illustrate that, Raymar Jose and Prince Orizu killed Ateneo with a combined 14 points and 16 rebounds in that fourth period. All those 14 points were scored in the paint. Jose finished with an incredible 20 points and 23 rebounds. Orizu, who was silent for much of the game, came alive in the fourth period and he finished with nine points and 10 boards.
In contrast, Ateneo only had four inside points with 13 coming from the lower percentage outside in the final 10 minutes of play.
What got Ateneo to the second seed is their faster-paced game and willingness to play inside. The result was a six-match win streak before FEU halted it. The Tamaraws slowed the game down to their liking by jamming the outlet and pressuring the ball carriers (exactly what La Salle does). The result was zero fastbreak attempts.
That walk up offense is where Ateneo struggled earlier in the season and it showed this game. It didn’t help that players were turning the ball one after another.
I was shocked that zone notwithstanding, the Blue Eagles opted to throw up shot after shot from the outside. It didn’t help that they hit two consecutive triples and they kept on taking them after.
The half-court set saw FEU go to the stripe 28 times as compared to Ateneo’s poor 15 attempts from the line. Going into penalty situation didn’t help Ateneo’s cause one bit.
The elimination round wins over the Tamaraws were characterized by defense. That was manifested by either winning the rebound battle (second-round match) or taking more free throws (first-round match) on top of closing that lane (they had more blocks in both games).
Ateneo tends to adjust well, heading into the second half, and they did, hence, the great third period. But like many matches, they aren’t won in the early periods; not unless you race to a 25-plus point lead that will cushion the lapses in concentration.
The poor game of the Blue Eagles’ point guards—Adrian Wong and Matt Nieto—didn’t help at all. They combined for five points, four rebounds and two assists. The Blue Eagles can sometimes live with that but leadership is crucial. They needed to stabilize the offense and make sense of it, move people around and make things happen. You could see Raymar Jose not only leading by example but also gathering his team around to talk.
While in conversation with a member of La Salle’s coaching staff a couple of days before the Ateneo-FEU tussle, we agreed that the way to stop Ateneo was to slow the game down. The lack of a strong and reliable four- and five-spot player who didn’t depend on gimmes was gonna hurt them. Furthermore, should Thirdy Ravena and Aaron Black attack the basket, defenders are reminded to cover potential receivers for the drop pass.
FEU did just that. And no doubt, they will go back to that for Game Two.
Whoever plays with more desire will go to the finals.