This big cat is down to its ninth and final life.
Facing elimination for the fourth time this season, the UST Growling Tigers fight for their survival in Game 2 of 2019-20 UAAP Men’s basketball tournament against the defending champions Ateneo De Manila Blue Eagles, Wednesday inside the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay. After absorbing a 91-77 beatdown from the three peat-seeking Eagles in the finals opener last Saturday, the Growling Tigers aim to extend their tournament lives and the best-of-three series to a decider slated on November 23.
Three days separate the España-based squad from yet another “win or go home” predicament: three short days to recuperate, prepare and plot a last-gasp turnaround to their Season 82 campaign.
Else, the UAAP Seniors crown will prolong its two-year stay at Katipunan.
What adjustments should coach Aldin Ayo and his embattled Tigers have to make to force a decisive Game 3?
Avoid early deficit
Falling behind 18-2, the Tigers looked lost from the get-go as the Eagles took control early in the series opener. Thirdy Ravena and Angelo Kouame made mincemeat out of the Tigers’ defense, hitting high-percentage shots that kicked-off Ateneo’s all-out assault in Game 1. The Tigers trimmed that deficit to two, only for the Tab Baldwin-mentored Eagles to raise it back up to double-figures. Against a focused and disciplined team like Ateneo who can sustain big leads, UST cannot afford another flat start.
The Eagles were just so opportunistic in Game 1 in terms of points off turnovers. Though both teams tallied 16 errors apiece, it was Ateneo who cashed in on their opponent’s miscues – to the tune of 27 turnover points compared to UST’s 14. After every UST turnover, the Eagles swooped down on loose balls and botched plays by their finals adversaries. Also, UST guards Mark Nonoy and Brent Paraiso, who combined for just three assists, coughed the leather a total of eight times. These two Thomasian playmakers have to be more careful and decisive with the ball in Game 2.
Limited to just three points in Game 1, prized newcomer Rhenz Abando fell prey to Ateneo’s vaunted defense. Weak side, strong side, with or without the ball, the Eagles had their sights zeroed in on Abando for almost the entire contest. Abando even had screens set for him by his teammates to be able to receive a pass, but designated defenders like Adrian Wong, Will Navarro and Matt Nieto wouldn’t allow UST’s main gunner a glimpse of daylight. In Game 2, Ayo has to devise ways on freeing up Abando, especially from the three-point arc.
Stop Finals Thirdy
What a time for Thirdy Ravena to notch a tournament-high in terms of scoring. Exploding for 32 points in Game 1, Ravena decimated the UST defense with a bevy of moves, converting 14 of 18 field goal attempts (78%). The Tigers have no choice but to body up Ravena in Game 2 – no straight paths to the basket, no clear paths through the baseline. The graduating forward is on automatic on shot attempts off from the shaded lane – off drives. UST should be able to collapse defensively on Ravena to at least limit his production. Abando, with helpside defense from Soulemane Chabi Yo, can possibly slow down Ravena’s attacks.