ATENEO was down by 11 points, Greg Slaughter was struggling, Eagles coach Norman Black was growing frantic by the minute on the bench, and arch-rival La Salle was sensing an upset.
Time for 'The Phenom' to take over.
Kiefer Ravena took over in the endgame with the cold-blooded precision of a gun for hire, almost single-handedly bailing out the Eagles, 66-63, on Sunday afternoon against a La Salle team that with six minutes to go looked on course to force a do-or-die game with its great rival.
Instead, those six minutes turned into a memorable showcase of why Ravena is one of the most celebrated players in college basketball today as the sophomore guard banged in 12 of his season-high 28 points to rescue the Eagles from the jaws of defeat.
“Basically, in that fourth quarter, we put the ball in (Ravena) hands,” Black said. “We just ran our pick and rolls… we gave the ball to Kiefer and we had Greg (Slaughter) and Nico (Salva) setting screens for him.”
Ravena took care of the rest.
Mature beyond his years, the 19-year-old sophomore normally likes to stay within the offense, taking the shots that the defense gives him and – so unlike other big-time college scorers -- rarely straying from set plays or forcing up shots.
But sensing trouble as La Salle’s lead grew to 11 points, Ravena took over the game with single-minded determination and started looking for his shots. He made four of six attempts from beyond the arc, showcasing one facet of his splendid all-around game he was least known for.
“Sinabihan ako ni coach na fourth quarter na,” said the son of former PBA star Bong Ravena. “Kung gusto raw naming pumasok sa Finals, kailangan na naming maglaro.”
The one shot Ravena passed up, he set up veteran teammate Ryan Buenafe for a three-pointer from the deep left corner that gave the Eagles the lead for good, 64-62.
So focused was Ravena in the endgame he didn’t even respond to the trash-talking Joshua Webb. He just kept loading up shot after shot – and making them.
“He just took over the game and that’s what great players do,” said Black, more relieved than anything else after the win. “They take over the game when the game is on the line particularly in big moments, and he stepped up to the plate.”
The win moved the Blue Eagles to the finals and gave Black the chance to avenge the biggest blot in his career with Ateneo – a loss to heavy underdogs University of Santo Tomas Tigers in the 2006 Finals.
Even before the season started, Ravena had promised Black a fifth championship as a sendoff gift before the well-loved mentor moves back to the pro league as coach of Talk ‘N Text.
Ravena rarely talks brashly, but that should be warning enough for the Tigers.