ON Wednesday, Ateneo will look to rain down on University of the Philippines’ underdog parade in the UAAP Season 81 when it targets a series sweep of the best-of-three championship series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Blue Eagles came away with an 87-78 win over the Fighting Maroons last Saturday, and as the series shifts to a possible clincher, there are still some questions that needs to be answered before that fateful day.
SPIN.PH looks to answer some of those questions heading into Game Two.
Will Bright Akhuetie play?
Perhaps this is the most obvious question in the minds of both schools right now. The soon-to-be-named MVP was taken out in the 6:31 minute mark of the third period after taking a nudge from Ange Kouame which then resulted into a hyperextended knee.
Akhuetie was able to return, though clearly not a hundred percent which had some fans asking if the 6’6 Nigerian is ready to play on Wednesday.
All signs point to Akhuetie suiting up on Wednesday.
Last Sunday, UP head coach Bo Perasol said that Akhuetie is a game time decision as they check on him a day to day basis to monitor his left knee. Good news may be on the way for the Fighting Maroons as Perasol told SPIN.PH that Akhuetie joined practice on Monday.
“Kahapon nag ensayo naman, pero wala masyado pa, di ko naman tinotodo, wala pa masyado yung explosiveness pero titignan pa namin bukas,” said Perasol.
Akhuetie himself assured SPIN that he is raring to go on Wednesday.
“I’m good, I’ll be fine by Wednesday,” Akhuetie said.
Paul Desiderio was limited to just six points before fouling out in Game One, is that worrisome for UP?
No. Not at all. While Paul Desiderio was limited, he wasn’t entirely shut down as he turned into a facilitator for the Fighting Maroons – finishing with eight assists in the loss.
While he certainly needs to be involved more on offense if the Maroons want to get a fighting chance, fatigue definitely played a factor in Desiderio’s production in Game One.
With a couple of days of rest now, Perasol expects Desiderio to be in top form.
“Walang worries. Siyempre kailangan din magpahinga e, pagod na siya at that point. Makikita mo naman na tinotodo niya parin, atleast dito nagkaron siya ng atleast dalawang araw na pahinga na makakarecover,” said Perasol.
Surprisingly, Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto had big individual games for Ateneo – will we see more of that heading into Game Two?
In the biggest stage, the biggest players shine the brightest and that’s exactly what Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto did in Game One as they proved to be too much for the Fighting Maroons.
Nieto had a career high 27 points while Ravena went an assist short of a triple double as he finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the win.
The answer? It really won’t be surprising to see them explode anew.
As much as Ateneo wants to play down the pair’s explosion, it’s apparent that they have the talent, and they run a system that could give them just that.
“It’s part of the flow of the offense, the plays that we called, both of them delivered,” explained Ateneo assistant Sandy Arespacochaga.
“It wasn’t a conscious effort on our part that the two get to score, the nice thing about it in the second half, they were able to get their points off the offensive system,” he added.
Perasol already expects them to stay aggressive come Wednesday.
“This is the finals already, anything can happen. Kung bibigyan mo ng pagkakataon ang isang player to produce at score, mangyayari talaga yan,” Perasol said.
“Knowing them with the championship experience, kukunin talaga nila ang opportunity pag binigay sa kanila.”
Ateneo proved to be too good for UP in Game One, is this what ‘Peak Ateneo’ looks like?
Unfortunately for UP fans, no. Ateneo could do a whole lot of things better and it could start by defending better.
Head coach Tab Baldwin blasted his team’s defense, particularly from the three point line as they gave up 13 threes on 46 percent shooting against the Fighting Maroons – allowing the underdogs to stay in the game for most part of the match.
“It’s disappoint when our defense doesn’t do its job,” said Baldwin. “They shoot 46 percent from the three and they shot 40 perfcent overall or better than that. We didn’t do our job. And when you don’t do your job, it’s the coaches’ job to be disappointed.”
But that doesn’t mean that UP won’t get a lot better too. Now knowing what it’s like to play in the Finals, the Fighting Maroons will now come into Game Two with a whole lot of confidence that they do belong in this stage of the playoffs.
“If I can show them that we can hold on to our focus up to the end, we will still have a chance against them,” Perasol said.