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EAGLES SOAR The Ateneo Blue Eagles celebrate their two-game sweep of arch rivals La Salle Green Archers by hoisting the UAAP championship trophy while Chris Tiu (left), tournament MVP Rabeh Al-Hussaini (with ring net on his neck) and Erik Salamat underscore their lofty status in the countrys premier varsity league. Al-Hussaini and Tiu were the two players who primarily carried the Eagles on their shoulders. The title showdown drew 22,955 fans to the 15,000 capacity Araneta Coliseum. EDWIN BACASMAS


The Band of Blue dethrones Green Archers

By Jasmine W. Payo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:26:00 09/26/2008

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

MANILA, Philippines?It was a championship that marked a regime change for the country?s most fabled and fancied school rivalry.

In a remarkable group effort by this band in blue, the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles dethroned the De La Salle University Green Archers Thursday, completing a two-game sweep of the UAAP Finals with a 62-51 victory Thursday night in front of an overflow crowd at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.

The Eagles, frustrated by the University of Santo Tomas Tigers two years ago, accomplished their return to glory by refusing to lean on one dominant performer and showing the same kind of heart that made them this year?s top seed.

?We did not win this game in offense tonight, we won it at the defensive end,? Ateneo coach Norman Black said. ?We?re a pretty intelligent team this year. We could actually execute defensive strategies that I?ve never been able to execute for other teams in Ateneo. A lot of credit goes to the players for being dedicated to defense.?

And Finals Most Valuable Player Nonoy Baclao epitomized the Eagles? tough defensive stance by averaging 8.5 rebounds and 5.5 blocks despite norming only 6.6 points in the series.

?For a while there it did get a little bit scary at the end,? Black said. ?But again, our defense held up as it has the entire year.?

Chris Tiu fueled the Eagles? comeback from a sluggish start by unloading 13 of his 16 points in the first half, which more than made up for a Game 1 performance that saw the King Eagle picking up three quick fouls and scoring a paltry two markers.

Season MVP Rabeh Al-Hussaini, who keyed the 69-61 victory in the series opener with a phenomenal 31 points, scored all his seven markers in the third canto after riding the bench most of the first half due to early foul trouble.

The hostility between the two elite teams was as real as the hype as the Archers refused to come out of the team dugout to receive the runner-up trophy.

?Being in the Finals for nine years, I?ve never seen the worst officiating in my Finals stint,? an angry coach Franz Pumaren said after the Archers lost top two players JV Casio and Rico Maierhofer in the second half due to fouls.

?It?s like a script, you know the ending. They should have just given the trophy right away.?

Although the overall head-to-head matchup between the two nemesis remains tilted toward the Archers with 35 wins in 61 showdowns since 1986, the Eagles always have the upper hand come championship time.

The Eagles now have won three of their four epic championship encounters. They also prevailed in 1988 and 2002 while La Salle scored in 2001.

Finest run

It was also Ateneo?s finest run in the last two decades. The Eagles wrapped up the season with 11 straight victories and finished with only one loss, a 72-66 decision from the Far Eastern Tamaraws in the eliminations nearly two months ago.

It was also the first time the Archers, under Pumaren, got swept in one season by their arch rival. The Eagles triumphed by an average of 8.25 points in four meetings this year.

?Today is one of those situations where we have to win,? Black said after the Eagles captured their fourth overall crown in the league. ?You don?t go into the season thinking you?re going to sweep La Salle, that?s for sure.?

Known for their ability to rise from adversity, the Archers, led by Casio, moved within three points at 47-50 after trailing 26-41 at halftime.

The Archers fired 18 of their 21 points from three-point range, 12 coming from Casio, in a rally that came despite the ejection of Maierhofer with 1:31 minutes left in the third period.

Dirty finger

Game officials said Maierhofer, a Mythical Team member who averaged 13.1 points and 10.1 rebounds, flashed a dirty finger after earlier getting slapped with a technical foul for taunting in the second period.

Maierhofer claimed, however, that he was just signaling a teammate to defend with his index finger.

?It?s a crucial game and you?re going to call a technical foul when the player is not doing anything,? Pumaren complained. ?They didn?t even allow us to play, calling a foul like that in a championship.?

But the Archers couldn?t sustain their charge and the Eagles took advantage of a La Salle scoring drought early in the last quarter to pull away to a 57-49 spread heading into the final two minutes.

Casio, also a Mythical Team member, fetched his fifth and final foul against Jai Reyes with 2:48 minutes left. He led the Archers with 18 points.

Black?s status

The victory also fortified Black?s status in Philippine basketball for having won both in the pro and the collegiate level.

?A lot of my success [in the pro league] there was not just as a coach but as a player,? said Black, who won his first title with the Eagles on his fourth year after bagging 11 titles as a PBA mentor.

?Up until four years ago I?ve never coached in college basketball so obviously it?s a learning experience for me also. It?s a different brand of basketball. More importantly, the most satisfying thing is watching the players grow. And as they improve, the team improves and gets better. That?s why I?m very happy for Rabeh, he really worked hard to improve his skills and ended up being MVP,? he said.

The game drew 22,955 fans, a clear proof that the two powerhouse squads unfailingly create a basketball buzz no local match up can generate.

It?s the kind of mania that drove die-hards to queue and camp overnight at the ticket booths, pushed some to purchase a P350 patron ticket for a bootleg price of P25,000 and even prompted the Tiu family to hire bodyguards for their son Chris the past days.

Extra tight

Just like in Game 1, security was extra tight with over a hundred police from Camp Crame and the Quezon City Police District, K9 unit dogs and coliseum bouncers deployed inside and outside the Big Dome.

But in some instances, the Araneta security proved too unreasonably strict as only photographers were allowed to cover at courtside. All reporters, even from the national newspapers, were asked to leave and wound up covering on television at the press room.

A handful of reporters were later allowed to go inside the hardcourt, but only those in rubber shoes.

After the buzzer, the Eagles gathered at the center court for the coronation with some openly weeping with joy together with the star-studded crowd.

Al-Hussaini and Tiu, the two players who primarily carried the Eagles on their shoulders this season, also got locked up in a long embrace amid the frenzied celebration.

Tiu, who played his final year in the league, summed it up for the Eagles: ?We made sure to be aggressive and just gave everything that we had.?

The scores:
ATENEO 62?Tiu 16, Nkemakolam 8, Baclao 8, Al-Hussaini 7, Baldos 6, Buenafe 5, Reyes 5, Salamat 3, Austria 2, Escueta 2.
LA SALLE 51?Casio 18, Walsham 8, Maierhofer 7, Revilla 5, Bagatsing 3, Atkins 3, Mangahas 3, Malabes 2, Ferdinand 2, Villanueva 0, Barua 0.
Quarters: 16-10, 41-26, 50-47, 62-51

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