MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE 3) The Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles made sure that there will be no repeat of 2006 as they defeated the University of Sto. Tomas Growling Tigers, 65-62, in Game Two of the UAAP Season 75 Finals to win their fifth straight men's basketball championship.
Over 20,000 fans trooped to the Araneta Coliseum Thursday to watch Game Two, with the Growling Tigers looking to pull off their most epic comeback yet and force a do-or-die Game Three.
UST had pulled off that feat once before -- in 2006, when they bucked a 0-1 series deficit to defeat the Blue Eagles in 3 games and clinch the Season 69 title. The stage seemed set for a 'Repeat of '06' after the Ateneo won Game One, 83-78.
But the four-time defending champion Blue Eagles made sure that history would not repeat itself, and instead, re-wrote the record books.
In another wild, back-and-forth contest featuring three deadlocks and 10 lead changes, it was the Blue Eagles who came up with the biggest plays in crunch time as they swept the best-of-three series.
"Today was a great game," said Ateneo head coach Norman Black. "It could have gone either way down the stretch, unlike some of the past games where each team went on a run."
"This was a close one this time... The defense was pretty good the entire game, and we were able to slow them down a bit. We just had enough offense to win," he added.
Back and forth
While Game One was a game of runs, Game Two proved to be an even closer encounter with both squads exchanging haymakers throughout the contest.
Kiefer Ravena was on fire early in the first quarter, scoring 9 points to put Ateneo ahead, 13-9. But he was nearly matched by UST's Kim Lo, who came off the bench to score 8 points, including a lay-up with 20 seconds left in the first quarter that put the Tigers on top, 14-13.
The second quarter saw both squads endure scoring droughts, before a jumper by Jeric Fortuna broke the dam open. The scoring then picked up, with Fortuna, Kevin Ferrer and Karim Abdul taking turns to score for the Tigers.
After UST took a 29-26 lead off a jumper by Abdul, Greg Slaughter and Ravena made three free throws to send the game into a 29-all deadlock going into halftime.
Unlike Game One, there was no stunning run for the Blue Eagles in the third quarter. Instead, it was the Tigers who raced to a 38-32 lead with a 9-0 run.
But the Blue Eagles responded with 12-2 run of their own, capped by back-to-back baskets from reserve center Justin Chua.
Ravena put the Blue Eagles ahead, 47-42, before UST's graduating point guard Jeric Fortuna fired 4 straight points to keep the Tigers in the contest, 46-47, entering the final period.
Ravena, Tiongson come up big
Ravena took control for the Blue Eagles early in the final period. After a Fortuna triple put UST ahead, 49-47, Ravena sparked another 12-2 run to put the Blue Eagles on top, 59-51.
It was far from a comfortable lead, however. The Tigers, who earned the moniker "Comeback Cats" for their penchant for come-from-behind victories, looked as though they would pull off another miracle when they cut the lead to 2, 58-60 with a 7-1 run of their own.
The Tigers' hopes of a comeback remained alive when Slaughter and Salva missed gimme shots in the next Ateneo possession. But with a chance to tie the game, Abdul committed a costly traveling violation that gave the ball back to the Blue Eagles.
It was then that veteran point guard Juami Tiongson came up with one of the biggest shots of the game: a jumper that beat that shot-clock buzzer with 1:12 to go, putting the Blue Eagles ahead, 62-58.
After Slaughter and Teng exchanged free throws, Ravena stuck the dagger in the hearts of the UST faithful when he nailed a step-back jumper that made it 65-59 with less than 50 seconds to go.
Fortuna refused to give up, making a triple with 20 seconds to go to make it 65-62. Tiongson then left the door open for the Tigers when he missed two free throws off a duty foul from Aljon Mariano.
But Tiongson made up for his mistake in the very next possession, stealing the ball with less than five seconds to go to clinch the win -- and the championship.
It was the perfect send-off for Black, who announced before the start of the season that he would leave the team at the end of Season 75 to become the head coach of the Talk N Text Tropang Texters in the PBA.
"It hasn't quite sunk in yet," Black said. "But it's something that I'm really proud of. My stint with Ateneo had been a blur. It's over, it's time to move on to something else now. It's been a blur."
Black, known as "Mr. 100%" during his time in the PBA, exits the UAAP having won 110 games, but he says he is most proud of having laid down the foundation for a successful program.
"That's what I would like to be remembered -- that we built a foundation for the Ateneo program, and we grew it to the point that it has become very successful," Black said.
"I think because it has a strong foundation, even when I leave, it will continue to be strong," he added.
Black paid tribute to businessman Manny V. Pangilinan, who was the team's primary benefactor before pulling out his support for the team in September.
"People don't understand how involved he is in the team," Black said.
He noted that "the hardest thing to do in sports is to continue winning."
"They say the first one is the most difficult, but it's really difficult to continue winning. The more you win, the more they want to bring you down," he said.
The Blue Eagles' streak of five straight titles is the longest in the modern era, and the most since the fabled University of the East teams of Coach Baby Dalupan won seven straight in the 1960s.
Salva is Finals MVP - again
Salva, Ateneo's sweet-shooting power forward, won the Finals Most Valuable Player plum despite a subpar performance in Game Two.
He scored only 8 points, but still managed to average 19 points per game in the series as he scored a career-high 30 markers in Game One.
"There's nothing like leaving the school with a championship and with a win," said Salva, who is hoping to enter the PBA draft next year.
Salva becomes the first player to repeat as Finals MVP. But he was not the only one to step up for the Blue Eagles.
Ravena led all scorers with 22 points, including the dagger jumper. Slaughter finally broke out of his scoring slump as he got a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds to go along with three blocks.
Tiongson ended up with 10 points, while Ryan Buenafe -- the Season 73 Finals MVP -- played a big role despite ending up scoreless. Buenafe compiled 11 rebounds and five assists while providing a crucial veteran presence in the game.
"The number one characteristic of my team is that they're very unselfish. They just want to win," said Black.
He pointed out that Buenafe has never lost a championship series, having won seven straight titles going back to his days as a San Sebastian Staglet.
"That's the beauty of our team - you never know who's gonna be the star," Black said.
It was a bittersweet ending for the Growling Tigers, who flew under the radar at the start of the season but shocked the Blue Eagles when they met in the first round.
They wound up winning 10 games -- the most in the Pido Jarencio era -- and making it to the Final Four with a twice-to-beat advantage.
"Breaks of the game lang talaga," said a subdued Jarencio. "Siguro, para sa kanila talaga ito."
Jarencio rued the traveling violation committed by Abdul that led to Tiongson's floater, but held back on criticizing the officiating.
The fiery head coach had slammed the officiating after Game One as he accused the referees of being "unfair," but he had no complaints after Game Two. Instead, Jarencio commended Black and the Blue Eagles.
"Hats off to Coach Norman. For five years, nakuha niya," he said.
Black had predicted at the start of the season that UST was among the teams to beat, but he and Jarencio had engaged in a verbal tussle after Game One. The two coaches seemed to bury the hatchet, however, as they hugged after the final buzzer had sounded.
"I just told him that he has a very strong team and that he had a great game," Black said. "I have a lot of respect for Coach Pido. He's a very good coach, and they should be one of the favorites next year."
"I just congratulated him, sabi ko, 'Good game,'" Jarencio said.
Jarencio has yet to decide on his future with the Growling Tigers, though he is optimistic that his team can compete next season.
"Yung ibang mga players ko, two to three years pa maglalaro. Lalong titibay 'yan kasi may championship experience na," he said.
Black is also confident that even without him, the Blue Eagles will have a strong nucleus in Season 76.
"Kiefer (Ravena) will be back, Juami (Tiongson) will be back. JP Erram will be back. We still have a strong nucleus coming back next year," he said.
But for now, the Blue Eagles and the Ateneo community are focused on celebrating their historic five-peat. They will hold their bonfire on October 13, Saturday.
ADMU 65 - Ravena 22, Slaughter 15, Tiongson 10, Salva 8, Chua 6, Gonzaga 3, Sumalinog 1, Golla 0, Elorde 0, Buenafe 0
UST 62 - Fortuna 20, Teng 9, Lo 8, Abdul 8, Ferrer 7, Bautista 6, Mariano 4, Vigil 0, Pe 0, Afuang 0
Quarter scoring: 13-14, 29-29, 47-46, 65-62
|Ateneo Blue Eagles' Kiefer Ravena drives to the basket in game 2 of the UAAP men's basketball finals against the UST Growling Tigers at the Araneta Coliseum. Ravena finished with 24 points, leading Ateneo over UST, 65-62, for a historic 5-peat championship. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com