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THE FIERCENESS OF a storied basketball rivalry is reflected in this photo, showing Ateneo de Manila Universitys Rabeh-Al Hussaini drawing a foul from James Mangahas of De La Salle University, as Mangahas Indonesian teammate Ferdinand tries to help. EDWIN BACASMAS


Blue Eagles claw Archers in Game 1 of UAAP Finals

By Jasmine W. Payo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:56:00 09/22/2008

Filed Under: University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP), Sports Events, Basketball

GAME THURSDAY (Araneta Coliseum)

3 p.m.?Individual Awards Ceremony

4 p.m.?Ateneo vs La Salle

(Game 2, best-of-three Finals)

MANILA, Philippines?Ateneo de Manila University?s blueprint for success this season has Rabeh Al-Hussaini?s name written all over it.

From strong inside plays to soft perimeter touches, Al-Hussaini again proved too dominant for De La Salle University?s frontline as he powered the Blue Eagles to a 69-61 Game 1 victory over the Green Archers in the UAAP men?s basketball competition Sunday before a boisterous, sellout crowd at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.

Al-Hussaini finished with 31 points and nine rebounds as Ateneo moved to within a win of capturing the UAAP crown.

He took over the game in the closing quarters by scoring 20 of Ateneo?s 33 points in the second half as top gunner Chris Tiu, for the first time, picked up more fouls than points and was relatively ineffective against La Salle.

?I had to play Rabeh more minutes than I would have liked because of the foul trouble, but he delivered; he delivered big time,? said Ateneo coach Norman Black.

Al-Hussaini, the 6-foot-6 Ateneo star who has virtually clinched the Most Valuable Player award in what has been a breakout season for him, fell just a bucket short of his career-high output as he almost single-handedly pushed defending champion La Salle?s UAAP reign to the brink.

And as if Al-Hussaini wasn?t too much for the Archers? undersized frontline to worry about, rookie sensation Ryan Buenafe had his way underneath, grabbing 11 rebounds to go with 12 points. Buenafe?s performance also gave him a lock on Rookie of the Year honors.

Backups came through

Jai Reyes helped the Ateneo cause, taking over from Tiu and scoring 12 points aside from performing defensive chores with aplomb. Shot-blocking ace Nonoy Baclao posted a season-high seven blocks including two crucial swats on James Mangahas and Rico Maierhofer in the closing minutes.

?We were very fortunate that our backups, our second stringers really stepped in and held the fort for us,? said Black, who admitted he ?wasn?t prepared? when Tiu fell into early foul trouble.

Tiu, arguably Ateneo?s King Eagle, finished with just two points?a jumper with 3:24 minutes left that gave the Eagles a 65-52 advantage?but managed to make his presence felt by contributing three rebounds and three assists.

The Eagles will shoot for their fourth overall championship in Game 2 of the best-of-three series at 4 p.m. this Thursday also at the Big Dome.

?Don?t count us out?

?We are down but not out,? said coach Franz Pumaren, whose Archers have yet to win over the Eagles in three encounters this season. ?We didn?t bring our A-game today. I?m still confident. It takes two games to win this series.?

About 22,900 paying fans filled the coliseum to the rafters, with some paying scalpers more than P25,000 for patron tickets originally priced at P350.

Taking full control in the third period, the Eagles led by as many as 14 points at 51-37 following an Al-Hussaini putback off his own miss.

Although the Archers rallied behind JV Casio and Bader Malabes to slice the gap to six, 55-49, early in the fourth period, Al-Hussaini again took over by knocking in six of the Eagles? next eight points to give Ateneo a 65-52 spread heading into the final three minutes.

Casio led the Archers with 20 points, while Rico Maierhofer posted a double-double of 17 markers and 16 boards.

Bodyguards hired

On the eve of the blockbuster match, a reliable source told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the Tiu family hired bodyguards to look after the safety of their son Chris after unidentified people reportedly tried to approach the Ateneo superstar in several instances.

A source said the Tiu family did not want a repeat of the case of Mac Baracael, the Far Eastern University standout who survived a brazen shooting incident two months ago. The assailant, still at large, is widely believed to have links to a game-fixing syndicate.

?There were people trying to contact him, but as far as I know, there are no serious security threats,? said Ricky Palou, Ateneo?s representative to the UAAP board.

Sunday at the South Gate?the entrance of team and school officials, media and league sponsors?security personnel checked the names twice on the official lists before issuing wrist tags.

Innovative table

With the game also drawing a sizable AB class crowd, luxury car brands Porsche and Audi had set up showrooms at the coliseum lobbies.

Inside the venue, Araneta also stationed an innovative Ticket Exchange Table. For instance, if a La Salle fan wound up purchasing an Ateneo-side lower box ticket, he could have his name listed on the exchange list. He could then watch on the Archers side if until an Ateneo fan holding a La Salle-side ticket of similar face value signs up for the trade.

With game passes at the Araneta ticket booths sold out, auditing personnel Ramil Antonio said the league decided to issue 1,000 more general admission tickets five hours before the game Sunday.

Bootleg tickets sold online by as much as P50,300 for two patron tickets originally priced at P350 each.

Tiu and Baclao sat out most of the first half due to early foul woes, but it didn?t stop the Eagles from taking a 36-29 lead at halftime.

After Casio gave the Archers their first and only lead following a three-point play, 29-26, the Eagles responded with a 10-0 spurt capped by a Reyes triple for their biggest lead in the first half at 36-29.

By halftime, the glaring statistic was the two squads? shooting percentage with Ateneo posting a 44-percent clip (11-of-25) and La Salle at 24.3 percent (9-of-37).

During warm-ups before the game, the Eagles wore tribute black shirts with the number 24, the jersey number of Black while playing as an import with San Miguel.

Ateneo set the tone in junior play as the Blue Eaglets held off a rallying Far Eastern University for a 72-62 Game 1 triumph that pushed the top seeds within a win of reclaiming the crown Saturday at The Arena in San Juan City.

The Lady Tamaraws similarly survived a late rally for a 54-52 escape over the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons in the women?s Finals.

The scores:

ATENEO 69?Al-Hussaini 31, Buenafe 12, Reyes 12, Baclao 5, Long 3, Baldos 2, Tiu 2, Salamat 2, Salva 0, Austria 0, Nkemakolam 0, Escueta 0.

LA SALLE 61?Casio 20, Maierhofer 17, Malabes 6, Barua 6, Mangahas 5, Revilla 3, Villanueva 2, Ferdinand 2, Walsham 0, Mendoza 0, Bagatsing 0, Atkins 0.

Quarters: 15-12, 36-29, 55-45, 69-61

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