MANILA, Philippines – The moment became too big for the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
Thirdy Ravena admitted the UAAP Finals atmosphere and the weight of fulfilling expectations for another chapter in the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry affected the Blue Eagles early in Game 1 of the Season 79 men's basketball finals.
"Siguro yung pressure ng Finals (Perhaps the pressure of the Finals), La Salle in general, they're a very, very strong team," Ravena said of his team's slow start on Saturday, December 3.
"And I don't want to use it as an excuse but I feel maybe because we're young, 'di kami sanay na ganito kalaking laro ang lalaruin namin (we're not used to playing this kind of big game). Not everyone in the team has been in this gravity of a game. It was just a bad start."
Young and inexperienced, this Ateneo team was not expected to reach the finals this season. But they defied expectations and wound up as the second seed, then thrust into the finals limelight against their fiercest rival, who happens to be the favored team to win it all since before the season began.
Before a loud crowd of 16,712, the Blue Eagles fell behind 16-2 to start and struggled to find their rhythm the entire first half. They ultimately lost 67-65.
"We were very rattled in the beginning I think by La Salle and maybe by the occasion, too," head coach Tab Baldwin said. "We got off to a terrible start and La Salle got off to a great start with a lot of composure and they did things they wanted and we didn’t."
The jitters showed in their paltry 3-point shooting at 4-of-22.
The Blue Eagles settled down, however, by the third quarter and made a fight out of it until the last possession. But veteran Jeron Teng took over while Ateneo's inexperience manifested itself.
The second year Ravena, for one, committed a crucial turnover that led to Teng's game-winning layup with 15.1 seconds left.
"I think I have no excuse for what I did. It was a very bad mental mistake on my part. Matt (Nieto) just made a foul-counted shot and I should have just given him the ball. I have no excuse for it," rued Ravena.
Baldwin, meanwhile, believes there should have been a foul on that play.
"I’m not very happy with the opportunity that Thirdy had. I think it was pretty clear that he was fouled," said Baldwin. "Thousands and thousands of people, millions around the country expect players to make big plays, while I expect referees to make correct calls, too. And when they don’t, they need to be called out."
"We’ll review it and we’ll see if they made the right call, but we already had a look at it and to me, it’s pretty clear. Not to say he would’ve made it, but he would’ve made his free throws. He’s a good free-throw shooter," he added.
Advice from Kiefer
Playing in a second UAAP Finals that features another Teng and Ravena – after Kiefer and Jeric's in 2013 – Thirdy shared the advice he received from his big brother who is currently in the US playing for the Texas Legends in the NBA D-League.
"Ang sinabi nya lang sa akin na galingan ko lang, 'wag lang ako ma-overwhelm, just enjoy the game," he said. "Siguro baliktad 'yung ginawa ko, na-overwhelm ako masyado doon sa laro. Parang tight yung start ko."
(He told me to play well and to not be overwhelmed, just enjoy the game. I think I did the opposite, I became overwhelmed. I played tight to start.)
Ravena and the Eagles will try to force a winner-take-all Game 3 by winning Game 2 on Wednesday, December 7.
"We fought, just like what we do every single game, we fight. Even though things did not seem okay at the start, we just tried to play with our hearts and not let the gravity of the game intimidate us. Just play our own game. We just played team basketball," Ravena said.
"We'll bounce back next game. We'll play hopefully without a bad start." – Rappler.com