MANILA, Philippines – Say you were put on the spot and made to answer this question: the PBA, the NCAA, or the UAAP?
You can only watch one of the 3 basketball leagues above for the rest of your life. What would you pick?
I don’t know about you, but the answer is quite clear in my head.
Maybe, it’s because of what I experienced on the evening of September 16, 2015. The NU Bulldogs and Ateneo Blue Eagles, locked in a double overtime classic that won’t be soon forgotten, providing those in attendance at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, basketball purists, and thousands of fans another collegiate basketball experience to remember.
If anyone asks me why I’m a sports writer by profession, I just have to link them to the replay of Wednesday’s duel.
Imagine the Big Dome packed, with one side colored by Ateneo navy blue while the covered by NU midnight blue. Fans of both teams going back and forth with cheers and taunts. Alumni of both universities taking turns screaming at the referees for calls which they obviously thought were prejudice against their team. Screams all over the floor making announcements by the game’s barker mute. Players from both squads exchanging big shot after another. It’s the kind of excitement that’s unmatched anywhere else in Philippine sports – save for maybe some Gilas games.
When the final buzzer finally rang, one player stood out above the rest once again. Who it was shouldn’t come as a surprise by now.
Kiefer Ravena, as usual, had a horrible shooting night by his standards against the Bulldogs. Maybe it’s the unforgiving pesky defense by Pao Javelona. Maybe it’s the defensive scheme of Coach Eric Altamirano. Maybe it’s the presence of Alfred Aroga in the paint. For years now, Ravena has struggled against these Bulldogs, and Wednesday was no exception: 21 points on 7-of-26 shooting, 1-of-10 from downtown, 7 rebounds, and 5 turnovers.
When the game had ended, those terrible numbers hardly mattered. Because when it was time to hit the biggest shots of the night – when it was time for the biggest star of the game to live up to his reputation – he delivered again, like he’s always done. And he’s likely going to continue to do so.
“It’s about his toughness inside and his confidence that he really can make it,” his head coach, Bo Perasol, said after the game. “There’s a lot of players that’s maybe as skillful as he is, but doesn’t have that toughness inside. That belief that, regardless if he’s going to make it or not, he’s going to make it anyway. He’s going to attempt for it anyway.”
Ateneo was down by 3 with seconds to go in regulation. With Javelona’s defense all over him, Ravena attempted his patented step-back 3-pointer. Swish. Overtime.
The crazy thing is: when that ball was in the air, followed by thousands of pairs of eyes at the Big Dome and all over the country, the expectation was mutual: that shot was going in. Why? Because number 15 of the Blue Eagles attempted it.
“That’s a characteristic that not a lot of players have, so that’s what sets him apart,” said Perasol.
NU shouldn’t have had a chance in overtime, not with Aroga and Kyle Neypes both fouling out in regulation. Yet they were still up by two with 6 seconds to go thanks to the heroics of Gelo Alolino, who took turns being the hero and the goat of the game. And then what happened? Ravena, again, taking 3 defenders in the paint and hitting a layup that should have come with a foul. 62-all. Double overtime.
And then, finally, his other teammates stepped up. Von Pessumal hit a big-time reverse layup (he’s not just a shooter!). Chibueze Ikeh made free throws. National U ran out of gas. The Blue Eagles’ 3-year losing streak to NU was snapped.
“Siguro yung tiwala nalang nang teammates ko pati coaching staff ko nagdadala saakin,” Ravena said after the game about what motivates him to step up in pressure situations. “They’re also looking at me to make those types of baskets, so I just don’t want to let them down. I’m a senior, and we have one common goal here, which is to win as much games as we can and go into the Final Four.”
Make no mistake about it: victory wouldn’t have been achieved if not for his teammates. Ikeh was monstrous with 14 points and 17 rebounds. Jerie Pingoy made big free throws and defensive plays. Hubert Cani had a huge steal. Arvin Tolentino’s reemergence was needed. John Apacible played good minutes.
But Ravena also sent a nice reminder that he is the best undrafted local college basketball player in the country today; that he is the reigning UAAP MVP for a reason; that he would already be a pretty solid pro in the PBA; that when the game is at its most critical juncture, there’s no one else in the UAAP whose hands you want the ball to be in.
“It never gets old,” Ravena said about being in that close-game, electric atmosphere only the UAAP can provide. “As much as possible, we don’t want to be in situations like those, but when you’re put into a situation, you just have to rise above it and thank the Lord.”
“It’s totally the crowd,” said Perasol. “Half of the crowd is for you, half of the crowd is for the other team. And the cheering is natural, so that’s what sets it apart.”
In those kinds of environments, the elite separate themselves from the great.
Once again, Kiefer Ravena did just that. And for everyone watching, it never gets old. – Rappler.com
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