Prior to their must-win game 2 duel, UE coach Lawrence Chongson gave a little pep talk: "I told the players, imagine if we lose, what will we do today? Siguro matagal tayong nakatitig sa kisame at mag-iisip kung anong nangyari." Lo and behold, his boys forced a rubber match!
The Ateneo faithful came out ready for a championship party. Yet even with just a pop of red cheering in a sea of blue, University of the East Red Warriors spoiled the Blue Eagles' fun with an emphatic 88-68 game 2 triumph. "It felt like a home-and-away game," said coach Chongson.
It should have been the Red Warriors feeling the pressure in game 2 with the Blue Eagles tabbed to sweep the championship series. But the slam-dunking Elmer Espiritu surprisngly came out firing from three-point range. "We were playing loose," said the lanky 6-foot-3 Espiritu. "There was no pressure. I guess I just got my timing right."
Which was the complete opposite with Blue Eagle Eric Salamat. Ateneo's Salamat received the league's "Maaasahan Player" special award hours before the UAAP championship series kicked off. The veteran guard, however, looked like a shadow of his reliable form, scoring only a measly four points in each of the Blue Eagles' title match.
Rabeh Al-Hussaini shocked the crowd, too: from his 28-point, 14-rebound performance in game 1, Al-Hussaini's numbers dropped in game 2 scoring "only" 18 points.
While the UE coaching staff gave Paul Zamar an earful—marching into the dugout, Zamar was scolded by the coaching staff for the 3-pointer he unleashed in the dwindling seconds, upping UE's lead to 20 points—UE coach Chongson, unwittingly perhaps, took a potshot at Ateneo's well-structured basketball system after their decisive win: "It has been said that it's the discipline of Ateneo versus the emotions of UE. But discipline has its limits. We knew they weren't just going to take shots, we knew they were going to execute. We turned out patience on our defense." No luring Ateneo coach Norman Black to a word war, though: "No comment," the champion mentor said.
The rubber match happens on Thursday, October 8, 3:30pm at the Araneta Coliseum.
ADMU and UE coaches on game 1
WORDS: JASMINE PAYO