Ateneo's Chris Newsome goes up for a basket against La Salle. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 2) Four players set new career-highs for the Ateneo Blue Eagles as they stunned rivals De La Salle Green Archers, 97-86, and sent the defending champions to a 0-2 hole in the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball tournament Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Kiefer Ravena set a new career-high of 29 points to go along with five rebounds, two assists and two steals, and was showered with "M-V-P" chants in the final period after he helped hold off the Green Archers in front of a crowd of 17,344 fans.
Von Pessumal also set a new career-high with 21 points, and was instrumental in keeping Ateneo in the game in the first half after they got off to a poor start. Rookie Arvin Tolentino tallied his first collegiate double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
But it was unheralded big man Alfonso Gotladera who received the bulk of the praise after his workmanlike 17-point, eight-rebound effort, while at the same time helping neutralize the much taller La Salle big men -- including Arnold Van Opstal and Norbert Torres -- for much of the game.
"Our golden boy, Alfonso Gotladera," said Ateneo coach Bo Perasol after the game. "Siguro, iba 'yung motivation ni Ponso, coming from La Salle. S'yempre, in a way meron siyang personal agenda."
Gotladera was a bench-warmer for La Salle for two seasons before transferring to Ateneo and sitting out last season to fulfill residency requirements.
"Gusto niya magpakita din, na hindi naman sa nagkamali kayo, pero in a way, sinasabi niya na, 'I am better than what you were thinking about me,'" Perasol noted.
Gotladera's 17 points were a career-high, and most of them came late in the fourth period when the game was already in Ateneo's control as La Salle resorted to hacking the Blue Eagles to stop the clock.
"Coming into this game, I just wanted to contain Arnold, sila Norbert. Wala namang talagang agenda," said Gotladera, who acknowledged that his familiarity with his former teammates helped him. "We just wanted to win as a team and grateful lang din kami na nakuha namin 'yung game."
Ravena, who had tallied his previous career-high of 28 points also against La Salle, was at his best in the final period when he drained four three-pointers, the first of which came at 8:22 mark and gave the Blue Eagles a 64-61 lead that they would not relinquish.
Ravena drilled two more triples after that, and Pessumal continued his spectacular play by assisting on two Arvin Tolentino field goals, including a three-pointer that made it a 75-66 game with 5:25 remaining.
A Gotladera three-point play gave the Blue Eagles their first double-digit lead, 80-69, with 3:36 remaining. Ravena's final three-pointer of the game made it a 14-point lead for Ateneo, 85-71, with a little over two minutes remaining.
"Knowing Kiefer, gagawa ng paraan 'yun to win the game... He's somebody who's going to find a way, no matter where, no matter how," Perasol said of Ravena.
After the game, Ravena downplayed their 2-0 start.
"Malayo pa talaga. There are a lot of things that can happen this season, and we have to take it a game at a time," he said.
Ravena was actually subpar in the first half, committing an offensive foul in the first period and flubbing long jumpers. Instead, it was Pessumal who kept the Blue Eagles in the game, as he waxed hot in the second period, scoring nine of his 12 first-half points in the frame to keep Ateneo within striking distance.
"We anticipated that their defense was gonna clamp on Kiefer, and the challenge was on the other guys, most especially Von, who's a natural scorer," said Perasol. "Maganda naman ang naging response ni Von, and all the others."
After Prince Rivero's lay-up gave La Salle a 28-21 lead, Chris Newsome -- despite being saddled by foul trouble -- scored five consecutive points to cut into the lead. Pessumal then gave the Blue Eagles the lead for the first time with a triple off a Newsome assist to make it 29-28.
La Salle tied the game at 35-all with 3:44 to go in the second quarter after Thomas Torres hit a triple, and then regained the lead moments later thanks to Jeron Teng's bucket.
Ateneo was able to retake the advantage, however, by going into the line, with free throw by Nico Elorde and Tolentino, as well as a baseline jumper by Gotladera, giving the Blue Eagles a 39-37 halftime lead.
"There were some instances when it showed that we knew what we were doing," said La Salle coach Juno Sauler after the game. "But there were also instances where we could see that we were lost."
"We're trying to find a way to play consistently for forty minutes," he added, acknowledging that the Green Archers need to improve their mentality, especially on defense after being burned by Far Eastern University and Ateneo in consecutive games.
It looked as though La Salle had control of the game when they took a 13-4 lead early in the first period, with Jason Perkins showing off his versatility by completing a three-point play in one possession and then drilling a three-pointer in the next.
The Blue Eagles clawed their way back in the game, however, as they were able to execute their press better and force the Green Archers to commit turnovers. They cut the lead to two points, 12-14, via a Pessumal three-point play. La Salle was able to extend their lead by using their size advantage, with Torres and Yutien Andrada scoring on top of the smaller Ateneo players.
Just one win
Perasol, who had downplayed Ateneo's chances against their rivals ahead of the game, emphasized that the it was still just one victory even as the Blue Eagles joined National University and University of the East at the top of the league standings.
"When I go back to the dugout, my emphasis would be that this is just another win," said Perasol. "This is not times two, this is not times three wins. This is one win off our slate."
"Hindi naman ito nag-4-0. This is 2-0. Siyempre, hindi naman ako Atenista, so hindi ko alam ang side story ng La Salle at Ateneo," he added. "They're very proud ngayon na panalo sila."
"But for me, as a coach and as a non-Atenean, it's just one win for me."
Perasol also said they may have caught La Salle in a "bad game." "Hindi naging maganda 'yung shooting nila," he noted.
Perkins led the way for La Salle with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Almond Vosotros added 18 points and Teng had 15 points and 12 boards.
Still, La Salle's vaunted size advantage failed to work in their favor against Ateneo, though Teng stressed that it was not yet time for the defending champions to press the panic button.
"We knew naman Ateneo is a contender this year and we knew that they will be strong and ready for us," said Teng. "Hindi naman panic button, kasi it's still early and we still have a lot of time to prepare and to adjust whatever we have to adjust as a team."
ADMU 97 - K. Ravena 29, Pessumal 21, Gotladera 17, Tolentino 14, Elorde 9, Newsome 7, Babilonia 0, Capacio 0, F. Ravena 0, Apacible 0
DLSU 86 - Perkins 25, Vosotros 18, Teng 15, Van Opstal 10, N. Torres 8, Rivero 4, Sargent 2, Andrad 2, Salem 2, T. Torres 0, Montalbo 0, Bolick 0
Quarter-scoring: 17-24, 39-37, 61-59, 97-86