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Elimination round results:
The Ateneo Blue Eagles won both games against the UST Growling Tigers. In the first round, Kiefer Ravena led his team to a 66-53 victory, with the star rookie posting all-around numbers of 18 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists.
In the second round, the Blue Eagles routed the Tigers anew, 82-57. Nico Salva starred for Ateneo with 20 points and 7 rebounds, while UST big man Karim Abdul finished with 19 rebounds in the game.
Key points for UST:
• Stopping the Ateneo fast break – The Blue Eagles are the number 1 fast break team in the league, with 14.6 fast break points per game. ABS-CBN’s TJ Manotoc says the Tigers will have to watch out for the outlet passes to Ravena and Kirk Long.
• Creating match-up problems with Kevin Ferrer – “He’s 6-foot-4 and agile,” Manotoc says of the former Juniors MVP. Ferrer is able to play both inside and outside and should create mismatches whenever he is on the floor.
"He's a match-up nightmare who could pose a headache," says InboundPass.com columnist Chris Soler.
|Boyet Sison says UST can steal a win from Ateneo "by a really great miracle."
• Containing the Ateneo frontcourt – ANC’s Boyet Sison believes that the key to beating Ateneo is stopping the front court tandem of Greg Slaughter and Salva, 2 players who combine for over 25 points per game.
With this in mind, Soler points to Abdul, who is the best big man that can match-up well against Slaughter.
• Going to Abdul in the post – The improvement of Abdul has fueled the Tigers’ run to the Final 4. With Abdul in the middle, the Tigers have their first go-to big man since Jervy Cruz.
• “Rah-rah spirit” – In the pre-season, very few pundits gave the Tigers a chance of making the Final 4. Now that they have made the post-season, the Tigers can pull off one of the major upsets in league history if they beat the Blue Eagles. Manotoc gives the Tigers a chance of stealing a game “if UST just plays the way they play, with rah-rah spirit, never giving up, and with no pressure.”
"Pido Jarencio's players will die for him, that kind of heart is needed in the big stage," adds Soler.
Key points for Ateneo:
• Bouncing back – The Ateneo Blue Eagles suffered their first elimination loss at the worst possible time, in their last game against the Adamson Falcons. The loss could work either way, says Manotoc. “It could motivate Ateneo so much more, or it could deflate their morale,” he says.
Soler says the Blue Eagles' championship experience will play a role in helping the team bounce back from the loss.
"A lot of Ateneo's players have assumed important roles on past title teams to realize that they're still alive," he says.
• Defensive pressure – The Blue Eagles are still one of the best defensive teams in the league, pressuring opponents to shoot an anemic 32%. Long and Emman Monfort will be charged with stopping UST’s shooters, especially Jeric Teng and Jeric Fortuna. Slaughter, meanwhile, will be matched-up against Abdul.
|Chris Soler says Nico Salva will be the key to Ateneo's victory vs UST.
• Inside presence – Slaughter and Salva took turns burning the UST front line in their 2 elimination round meetings, despite Abdul’s presence. If Slaughter and Salva are both clicking against the Tigers, the floor will open up for Ateneo’s perimeter shooters.
Soler says Salva will in fact be the key to Ateneo's success against UST, but adds that Slaughter and rookie star Ravena will also relish their first post-season appearance.
• Motivation – The loss to Adamson should serve to motivate the Eagles, as they lost the chance to make history. Manotoc says the Blue Eagles will now have to prove that they deserve a place in the Finals.
Sison says UST can steal a win from Ateneo – “by a really great miracle.”
But the Blue Eagles have the all-important twice-to-beat advantage, making it difficult for the Tigers to pull off an upset.
Moreover, Ateneo should be more motivated than ever to return to the Finals after losing their aura of invincibility.
The Blue Eagles will be able to dispatch the Tigers on Thursday and book a return trip to the Finals.