Breaking down UST vs Ateneo’s match-ups
The 2012 UAAP Men’s Basketball Championships promises to be a thrilling encounter between two storied programs. The University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers are back in the Finals for the first time since they won it all in 2006. Their victims then have become their opponents this year: the four-time defending champion Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles.
Let’s check how these two squads match up against each other.
Jeric Fortuna vs Juami Tiongson
Fortuna’s shooting skills have now been meshed with leadership in his final campaign for the Tigers. Since his days with La Salle-Zobel, Fortuna has been known more for his bursts of scoring rather than assists, but he’s been able to temper that this season. Still, Fortuna has been able to knock down some big shots for UST and will probably need to do so a few more times for the Tigers to win.
For his part, Tiongson has been up and down for the defending champions. Sometimes out-of-control but sometimes positively on fire, the burden on him hasn’t been as heavy as it has been on Fortuna.
Jeric Teng vs Kiefer Ravena
Teng had the misfortune of dealing with a leg injury midway through Season 75. Luckily for his fellow Thomasians, the gunner has returned to the starting lineup and camping out from beyond the arc once again.
Though he was left out of the Mythical Five this season, few can say that Kiefer Ravena hasn’t made an impact. The Phenom has, at times, just put the entire Blue Eagle roster on his shoulders and towed them to wins. His 16-point fourth quarter lifted Ateneo from 11 points down and helped eliminate La Salle, but his most memorable shot of the season is probably his dunk over UST’s own Karim Abdul in their last encounter. Ravena’s offensive versatility and defense make him a lot more dangerous than the veteran Teng.
Aljon Mariano vs Ryan Buenafe
Mariano’s return to Coach Pido Jarencio’s squad pushed them over the top and into the Finals with Abdul’s improved play. He’s shown the capability to be silent for three quarters, then just catch fire in the last period, as well as fearlessness in driving to the hoop or pulling up for a triple.
On the other side, Buenafe also returned to Coach Norman Black’s quintet, but has been in and out of the starting five. His big game versus La Salle in the second round indicated a return to the form that won him the 2010 Finals MVP Award, and his clutch triple and free throws in the semis cemented his legend as a “La Salle Killer.”
Still, if Mariano is on, Buenafe might not be able to keep up with him so expect either Nico Salva or one of Black’s bench players to take their turns on the UST swingman.
Kevin Ferrer vs Nico Salva
Former Juniors MVP Ferrer has slowly gotten his act together in his sophomore season of Seniors action. Not scoring as much but scoring when needed, he’s also been playing stellar defense, helping to hold down reigning MVP Ray Ray Parks to just 12 points in their semis encounter.
Coming off a 2011 Finals MVP performance, most expected Salva to take a leap into superstardom this year. He’s had his bursts of greatness, particularly when his mid-range jumper has been clicking, but there was a slump that bridged the first and second rounds that made the Blue Eagles vulnerable. Salva is one of Coach Black’s most trusted sources of points when Ateneo needs it so matching up with the lanky Ferrer might prove to be a challenge for the Tigers.
Karim Abdul vs Greg Slaughter
In his second year in España, the Cameroonian Abdul has already emerged as a top MVP candidate. Not bad for somebody who loved football more than basketball growing up. A true physical presence who loves banging inside, Abdul gives Coach Jarencio the first inside operator since Jervy Cruz roamed the paint for UST.
Slaughter has shown both greatness and inconsistency in Season 75, mostly due to his 7-foot frame. Opposing defenders have either flopped against him, outright fouled him, or double-teamed him in varying degrees of success. Despite two subpar games scoring-wise versus La Salle, Slaughter was still good enough to earn MVP consideration but he’s going to have to start driving versus Abdul and the rest of UST if Ateneo hopes to earn its five-peat. If Slaughter keeps relying on hookshots and fadeaways, the Eagles will be left scrambling for rebounds that they might not get so easily.
UST bench vs Ateneo bench
The Tigers have the luxury of combo guard Clark “Tata” Bautista ready to spell either Fortuna or Teng at any time and be effective in either guard role. They are, however, thin at the center and power forward spots with basically Melo Afuang and Paolo Pe as part of their rotation.
This is a problem versus a big team like Ateneo who will be rolling out Justin Chua, Frank Golla, and maybe even Gwynne Capacio to sub for Slaughter and Salva. If Poy Erram were healthy, the Ateneo edge would be even bigger.
Louie Vigil, Kim Lo and Ed Daquioag aren’t expected to do much for the Tigers, but they’ll be hard-pressed to do as much as the crew of Nico Elorde, Oping Sumalinog, and Tonino Gonzaga are used to providing. The Hail Mary Quad’s depth means they can outlast Santo Tomas if it becomes a war of attrition.
Pido Jarencio vs Norman Black
During their lone coaching duel in the Finals, Jarencio’s rah-rah style proved to be enough to get the most out of Jervy Cruz, eventual Finals MVP Jojo Duncil, and the rest of the underdog Tigers. That upset still sticks in the collective craws of many in Katipunan Avenue. Some Ateneans are calling this Finals as a chance to redeem the trio of JC Intal, Doug Kramer and Macky Escalona, all of whom played their last game for Ateneo when UST won the crown.
Black is famous for the adjustments he makes during game situations, for his emphasis on defense, and for serving as both father and brother to his players. For Black, he has already become the greatest coach in Blue Eagle history with his four consecutive titles, but a fifth one -- something neither UST nor La Salle has done -- will make him immortal as he leaves the Ateneo bench.
Until this run to the Finals, there were rumblings that Jarencio’s job was in jeopardy because of the lack of Finals appearances in his resume but the fiery former Glowing Goldie has somehow gotten his alma mater back in contention.
It might be the closest Finals we’ve had in years, but with their championship experience, depth and coaching, Ateneo should still win their fifth straight UAAP title.
However, we would be remiss if we didn’t say that UST has proven to be a tough nut to crack all season long. Expect fireworks on offense and huge momentum swings when the 75th UAAP Finals commence on October 6 from the Mall of Asia Arena.