The Year In Sports: Ateneo Completes Historic Five-Peat

Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

(Editor’s note: Yahoo! PH Sports looks back at the year that was with a series of blogs recalling the highlights and lowlights of Philippine sports.)

The Ateneo Blue Eagles etched their name in Pinoy hoops history last October 11 when they topped UST 65-62 in Game 2 of their UAAP Seniors Basketball Final series.

That victory gave Norman Black's charges a fifth straight title, a dynasty only exceeded by the UE Red Warrior's 7-year reign of dominance under the stewardship of Baby Dalupan from the '60s to the early '70s.

Kiefer Ravena avoided a Sophomore Slump, averaging 15 points a game, while in the post, Greg Slaughter completed his UAAP career in style with a second title.

Kiefer Ravena. Image Copyright Bob Guerrero.

Ryan Buenafe, after sitting out the 2011 season, returned as a role player who chipped in valuable minutes.

There were storm clouds as the season opened. Ateneo would be without Kirk Long, Emman Monfort, and Bacon Austria, vital cogs of the four-peat who had used up their eligibility.

The season started well with a big win over Adamson, but in the second game Aljon Mariano exploded for 21 points, leading UST to a 71-70 upset. Right off the bat, the air of invincibility was gone.

It was the only blemish in the Eagles' first round record, as they edged FEU 74-71 to finish the opening round with a 6-1 slate.

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Ateneo continued to play well, brushing aside FEU again and sweeping De La Salle in the second round. But on September 6 the Eagles were dealt a blow when UE, thanks to a last-second jumper by unheralded Chris Javier, stunned them 79-77.

ADMU did finish off the round with a 68-66 win over the Growling Tigers. Juami Tiongson, with 13 points, was a key contributor.

Another speed bump came in the form of Poy Erram's season-ending ACL injury that forced third-string Justin Chua to step up in the 5 spot.

In the semifinals Ateneo held off a spirited Green Archers club with a 66-63 win to book a finals slot. The Blue Eagles' stingy defense limited De La Salle's rookie phenom Jeron Teng to only 12 points while Ravena exploded for 28.

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The finals pitted the defending champs against UST. The regular season encounters had been bruising, and this one was no different.

Ateneo prevailed in Game One 83-78 as Salva erupted for 30 points off 14 of 23 shooting.

Greg Slaughter and Karim Abdul. Image Copyright Bob Guerrero.

In the second game Slaughter was key, neutralizing UST's center Karim Abdul as Ateneo gutted out the victory.

Nico Salva, whose 5-year UAAP career ran parallel to Ateneo's run, won the Finals MVP award for the second year straight.

Nico Salva won a title in every year he played for the Blue and White. Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

Ateneo's magical run of success might not have happened had the school been impatient with their coach, Norman Black.

Black took the reins of the program in 2005. His team bowed in the semifinals that year to DLSU.

The next year the Eagles were the hot favorites to win the title against UST. Doug Kramer's miracle game winner in Game 1 seemed to pave the way for imminent victory in the Finals. But the Tigers, led by Jervy Cruz, took Game 2 and then the case game in OT to win.

2007 was a similar story of disappointment, as Ateneo were eliminated by the Archers in the Final Four.

At that point there were calls for Black's head. But the school stuck with their coach and were richly rewarded. The Eagles broke their six-year drought in 2008 and with every subsequent championship, Ateneo's cachet grew, and the school, and Black himself, became a magnet for recruits.

Black leaves Loyola a winner. Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

In 2012 Black went with a merciless man-to-man defense that forced turnovers and created fast-break points. It turned out to be a winning formula.

For certain, the fifth title was no easy feat. “Every game we had to bring our “A” game because all the other teams brought theirs every time we played” says assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga.

Arespacochaga also paid tribute to his boss, who has now returned to the PBA to coach Talk N Text.

I think what makes coach Norman a great coach is his experience, attention to detail, passion and drive to win. He also has a great understanding of the game. He's patient and is good at developing players. He knows what buttons to push and when to push them. He had a good relationship with the players, and wanted to win every time.”

Black isn't all business though. Sandy confesses that he knows how to keep things light. “He laughs at our corny jokes, that's why we like him.”

After much hemming and hawing thanks to Manny Pangilinan's somewhat tortured relationship with the school, Bo Perasol will now finally take the reins for the team in 2013. Arespacochaga is upbeat about the prospect.

Timely din ang pagdating ni Coach Bo because the system that he used with Powerade is guard-centered. We lost the three bigs who played and produced a lot (Salva, Slaughter, and Chua are all out of eligibility), so we really have to start our offense with the guards. Good thing he is open also to continue doing the things the team did with coach Norman so hopefully we get a good mix.”

Ateneo will enter the 2013 UAAP fray with new big men like Chris Porter and Gboy Babilonia. Erram should be back in time for the UAAP along with Frank Golla.

As UST continues to be a threat and a revitalized De La Salle looms, gaining a sixth straight title will be tough.

But Ateneans are hoping it can still happen, and come 2014, Baby Dalupan's UE teams might have some company in the league's record books.

You can follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.

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