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UAAP Campfire: Step Ladder Day 2 – Family Curse

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We’re finally here! After almost two weeks of emotionally draining do-or-die elimination matches and puzzling scenarios, we’re officially on day one of the UAAP Women’s volleyball Final Four. As FEU coach Shaq so eloquently put it in a post-game interview, the Lady Tams had thread the smallest of needles to reach to this point. FEU was down, they were out. But like the Undertaker in Wrestlemania, they sat up and Tombstone-Piledrivered their last three opponents. We take a look at all the things FEU Lady Tams may need to accomplish to get to the Final Four:

>> The UST Tigresses basically have the Final Four slot in the bag, conceded to only seven losses and with two matches remaining in their elimination round. Their two matches left were against a Bersola-less UP and the UE winless Lady Warriors. UST looked dominant early in their UP match, but fumbled away crucial errors late in sets. UP went on to win the match off multiple UST service errors in the fifth set. The UP crowd was beastly in this match as they screamed “UP Fight!!!” during all timeouts. The fact that the UP contingent was on UST’s side of the court in the fifth set certainly did not help the Tigresses. On the other hand, Coach Mamon might have set the record for longest face palm by a Coach during a game, after Jesse De Leon suddenly forgot that she had to serve the ball in one play.

>> After losing their first four none-UE matches, the Lady Tams then had to face the wax hot Lady Maroons, who had just come off that monumental UST win, at the MoA Arena. If FEU had lost one of their remaining matches, they would have been officially out of contention for the Final Four. FEU managed win their first round match against the Lady Maroons but that was when Nicole Tiamzon played, days after being hit by a motorcycle. Even Senator Pia Cayetano was hyped for this UP team. But the Lady Tams dominated UP in four sets. For the first time this season, we witnessed how devastating the Casugod-Palma middle rotation can be, while their setter, Yna Papa, finally woke up from her season long coma, has shown us the Yna Papa that won the Shakey’s V-League Best Setter plume.

>> After that match, FEU squared off with the Lady Falcons who swept them in three sets in the first round. Only FEU had Adamson perfectly scouted, as they shut down all of Adamson’s best scoring options. Coach Shaq had finally found the perfect starting six after throwing countless players on the court, hoping they would stick. FEU finished the elims with a 6-8 record.

>> FEU then had to face the UST Tigresses, who prevailed in their elimination round matchups. FEU was the team that initially lit the fire for the Tigresses to burn off four straight wins, reinvigorating the UST season. But FEU peaked at the right time and UST showed their cracks in their final three elimination round matches. FEU fought off a late UST comeback that earned them their first Final Four appearance since Season 74. The loss, promptly ended the Coach Mamon Era of the Tigresses.

Talk about going through the ringer. I hope Coach Kid’s heart is still intact.

Which brings us to tomorrow’s NU-FEU tilt. The winner, goes on to face the twice-to-beat Lady Spikers while the loser gets a free pass to ignore the media after the game. Let’s break this matchup down.

The Family Curse
NUvsUP Rd 2-4114
Ever since a Santiago suited up for the Lady Bulldogs, they have made the Final Four twofold, once with a twice-to-beat advantage. NU is 0-3 in those appearances even when they were heavily favored last season to make the Finals.

The older of the Santiago sisters, Dindin, did all she could for the Lady Bulldogs as she realized her potential as one of the country’s top attackers. Unfortunately, she still couldn’t lead the Lady Bulldogs to a Final Four win. NU campaigned relentlessly to get the Santiago sisters to leave UST and play for the Lady Bulldogs, so far, that effort hasn’t paid off for NU.

Jaja is aware of this and there’s going to be so much pressure on her to end the streak that will somehow vindicate her and her sister, tomorrow . It’s also going to be an important first step for the young 6’4 sophomore. Jaja has shown flashes of dominance but the ball has grown heavier and the net seems a little bit higher under the intense Final Four lights.

Jaja had a forgettable game last season when they were eliminated by the eventual champs, Ateneo. She can’t afford to be forgettable tomorrow.

On a side note, Dindin Santiago does share the “NU Superstar Curse” with her Men’s Basketball counterpart, Bobby Ray Parks Jr. The similarities are uncanny.

>> Both were highly touted recruits that were supposed to go to a different school before back-pedaling and heading for NU.

>> They were NU’s first generation of super-recruits for the UAAP’s revenue sports and made NU a legitimate threat to bag almost any sport’s top prospects.

>> They were both decorated with individual awards, won multiple non-UAAP tournaments, but never won a UAAP title.

>> They both made the Final Four twice. In their first appearances they were bounced by veteran teams who were at the peak of their team’s powers (For Ray Parks, the Season 75 UST Tigers. For Dindin, the Season 75 DLSU Lady Spikers). In their second Final Four trips, they both had the twice-to-beat advantage. Both of their teams were manhandled in two games by the season’s dark horse contenders (For Ray Parks the Season 76 UST Tigers and Kevin Ferrer’s tongue. For Dindin, the Season 76 Ateneo Lady Eagles and Alyfinity)

The only difference is the Bulldogs did a John Mayer and moved on quickly from Ray Parks’ departure, winning a UAAP title this season. Can the Lady Bulldogs do the same?

#Dadangsanity
NUvsADU Round 2-3652

For some reason, the internet loves picking on NU Team captain, Desiree Dadang. I think she deserves more attention for her contributions on the court for NU. She might not be one of the top options for NU nor do her numbers pop off the stats sheet, but she has really held her own as Jaja’s rotation companion for that middle blocker position. She’s a sneaky and agile athlete, able to read the opponent’s set and move in front of the spiker the opposing offense chooses. She’ll also give you a block kill, an ace, and two or three points off nifty quick or running attacks. She has become more than a decent rotation player for her team. Their last two opponents, Adamson and UP, looked to exploit her seemingly weaker skill set, only to be burned by her veteran savvy.

She’ll be integral against FEU whose Casugod-Palma middle blocker rotation have axed the Lady Tams’ last two foes. Dadang is undeniably short for her position as well, which could make her barbecued chicken for Geneveve Casugod. She has to work doubly hard to manage FEU’s attacks when Jaja rotates out of the court tomorrow.

The NU Setter Conundrum
DLSUvsNU Round 2-1142

NU Coach Roger Gorayeb has openly spoken to the media about his frustration with both the setters he has on his team, stating that their tenure with the team is severely disproportionate with their skills. In fact, he has confessed to Tiebreaker Times that recruiting a setter is at the top of his to-do-list this offseason. Any long time volleyball fan knows that Gorayeb is especially hard on his setters.

But for the mean time, NU has to settle with the two they have now. To her credit, Asi Soliven has improved leaps and bounds from where she started off this season. Coach Gorayeb’s mandate is to give the ball to Jaja anytime they can and set it high. Soliven has followed those instructions well but Jaja can only score so many points. Their offense goes stale often when defenses get a read on Jaja’s attacks. The knee jerk reaction to these dry spells is to sub in former starting setter, Ivy Perez, but that barely ever works as Ivy seems to now have the confidence of a porcupine.

The setting situation is definitely a concern for Coach Roger as he really has to go all in on a pair of setters he trusts just about as much as we trust our government officials. With FEU’s setter, Yna Papa, getting her mojo back, this position is a definite advantage for the Lady Tams.

The 5’9 and Below Club
NUvsUP Rd 2-4106
Above all else, I think is really going to come down as to whose open hitters can compliment their middle blockers better. The Santiago-Dadang combination (this sound like an awesome law firm) can cancel out whatever the Casugod-Palma tandem can dish out. It’s in both teams outside hitters that this game will hinge on as FEU’s Bernadette Pons and Heather Guino-O have been playing lights-out volleyball since their UP game while NU’s Jorelle Singh and Myla Pablo have been sneakily brilliant all season.

But NU has zero offensive options from the bench as their prized rookie, Roma Doromal has been visibly overwhelmed in her first season; she’s just not ready yet. While every other NU spiker on the bench has played zero significant minutes in any of the games they’ve won.

FEUvsADMU Round 2-1516
FEU on the other hand has benefited from their early season rotation shuffles as they have rookies Jerrili Malabanan and Toni Rose Basas to plug into game if ever their starting six goes stale. Though their vetetan utility spiker, Charm “Banatan mo Pons!” Simborio has been out all season due to a shoulder injury, she still plays spot minutes for FEU as an emergency taller setter for crucial, end-of-set points.

NU barely has any bench to fall back on while FEU can throw a lot of lineups at the Lady Bulldogs for whatever scenario. The Lady Bulldogs may have had the better elimination round record, but this FEU team is on fire and have taken down a murderer’s row of opponents to get to them. Both these team’s cancel each others strengths out well, it’s really going to come down to who lets go of each point first.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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Calvin Abueva rejuvenated with return of physical play: ‘Masarap maglaro’

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Photo by PBA Images

For Calvin Abueva, it feels great to play in the PBA nowadays.

The Beast, who has always been known as one of the league’s most physical players since entering in 2012, was all praises for the way the officiating has changed this 43rd season — by just letting all the players play.

“Mas gumanda yung tawagan ngayon, naging physical nga. Naging exciting para sa mga tao, mas marami na nanonood ngayon eh,” said Abueva moments after their 97-83 victory over the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Sunday night.

As has been said many times, physicality had become something controlled over the last two years. Abueva knows it too well, having been a casualty, as he has paid a bevy of penalties during that time.

And now that it is a thing of the past, the 6-foot-2 bruiser feels much better, knowing that he can display his brand of basketball once more.

“Masarap maglaro, talagang pisikalan,” said the 29-year-old forward from Angeles, Pampanga. “Siyempre makikita naman natin kung sinasadya o hindi, basta katawan lang.

“Pisikal. Yun yung magandang laro di ba?”

Aside from the comeback of physicality, what makes Abueva beam even more is the way the Aces have been playing in the 2018 Philippine Cup. After a 0-2 start in the tourney, they have now booked their third straight win.

“Nung 2017 parang nilubog na namin yung losing streak namin doon. Ito 2018 na at panibagong destination na naman yung ina-ano namin,” said Abueva, who had nine points, nine rebounds, and five assists against Ginebra.

“Sustain muna namin ‘to… Sana magtuloy-tuloy ‘tong winning streak namin.”

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Alaska takes advantage of Greg Slaughter’s absence

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For the streaking Alaska Aces, their stunning 97-83 victory over the favored Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on Sunday night was partly made possible by the absence of one key player: seven-foot behemoth Greg Slaughter.

The 28-year-old center, who was averaging 20.67 points and 10.3 rebounds prior to Sunday, did not play against the Aces due to a hamstring injury. How he incurred the injury has yet to be determined.

“There’s a small person named Greg Slaughter who didn’t play; I think he has an impact on the game,” quipped coach Alex Compton after the match.

“[They missed] a guy who I think is gonna win an MVP soon in Greg Slaughter.

“Sometimes dito sa liga natin, you have to take advantage when opportunities come your way. You don’t want anybody to get hurt [though],” added Compton.

With Slaughter out of the way, the Aces’ big men feasted.

Vic Manuel top-billed with 18 points and five rebounds, and elder statesman Sonny Thoss turned back the clock with a 17-point, four-rebound outing.

“Malaking bonus na rin sa amin, kasi wala nga si Greg kaya nakuha namin yung panalo,” said Manuel.

“Yeah it definitely helped,” added the six-foot-seven Thoss, who shot 6-of-12 from the floor and made four of his freebies.

“He’s a big guy, he’s a big presence inside so it took one big guy off our shoulder.”

Slaughter was approached and asked by scribes regarding his injury, but he was not in the mood to comment. No one can blame him, though, since the Barangay have slipped to their second straight defeat after a 2-0 start.

“I’m always there in practice, going over our gameplans. But it’s better if you ask our PT,” he said.

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Alaska completes turnaround at Greg Slaughter-less Ginebra’s expense

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Photo by PBA Images

A strong second half surge was all the Alaska Aces needed to turn back the heavily-favored Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, 97-83, and book their third straight victory, Sunday night at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.

The Aces, who have yet to lose this 2018, have now improved to 3-2. Meanwhile, the Barangay absorbed their second straight loss and have dropped to 2-2.

“I was telling the guys na parang ang dami nating iniisip, hindi natin ginagawa yung ginagawa natin noong nakaraang dalawang linggo. Sabi ko relax lang tayo,” said coach Alex Compton, sharing what he told his wards that sparked the win.

Vic Manuel led the Milkmen with 18 points and five rebounds. Sonny Thoss turned back the clock as he made 17 markers on 6-of-12 shooting, while Chris Banchero supplied 14 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

The Aces were trailing by eight, 36-44 at the half, but it became a different ball game come the third chapter as they outscored the Gin Kings, 37 to 19, to erect a favorable 73-63 cushion heading into the game’s final 12 minutes.

From there, Alaska kept their foot on the gas to sustain their lead, which grew to as much as 18, 85-67, after their 6-0 spree — punctuated by Banchero’s lay-up plus a foul — with 6:14 remaining in the final frame.

Ginebra still tried to make one last push as they inched within 10, 75-85, but baskets by Thoss and Kevin Racal propelled Alaska to an 89-75 lead with 3:42 left to play — more than enough to knock out their counterparts.

“I was glad to come away with the win,” added Compton. “Sometimes, we have to take advantage of opportunities coming your way. You don’t want anybody to get hurt but when two number one picks on the other team aren’t playing… There.”

Jvee Casio had 13 markers for Alaska, while Calvin Abueva nearly had a double-double of nine points and nine boards along with five assists in 20 minutes.

Aljon Mariano had 15 points, nine rebounds, and three dimes for Ginebra, who — despite having Sol Mercado back in the fold after ankle issues — missed the services of Joe Devance and Greg Slaughter due to injuries.

Japeth Aguilar, Scottie Thompson, and Kevin Ferrer each scored 12 for the Barangay, with Thompson adding five assists. The trio combined for 15 of Ginebra’s 43 rebounds.

Alaska will aim to extend their streak versus the Blackwater Elite on Saturday, January 27 at 4:30 PM, while Ginebra will look to end their slump against the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Friday, January 26 at 7:00 PM. Both games are at SMART Araneta Coliseum.

The Scores:

Alaska 97 — Manuel 18, Thoss 17, Banchero 14, Casio 13, Abueva 9, Teng 9, Cruz 5, Enciso 3, Potts 3, Exciminiano 2, Magat 2, Racal 2, J. Pascual 0.

Ginebra 83 — Mariano 15, J. Aguilar 12, Ferrer 12, Thompson 12, Caguioa 8, Cruz 8, R. Aguilar 5, Tenorio 5, Mercado 2, Taha 2, Wilson 2, Jamito 0.

Quarterscores: 26-23, 36-44, 73-63, 97-83.

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Frustrated Jared Dillinger admits ‘he’s getting sick’ of Meralco’s bad PH Cup runs

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It’s no secret that the Meralco Bolts have struggled in the Philippine Cup for the last three years. During the last two seasons, the eight-year-old franchise’s win-loss tally is four wins and 18 losses.

And in the 2018 edition, the narrative has been the same, with little to no hope of it turning the other way around.

The Bolts bowed to the TNT Katropa, 99-81, Sunday night — their third straight defeat after winning over Blackwater Elite in their opener last December. If things continue as they are, it looks like another poor all-Filipino tilt run is looming.

“We’re 1-3 and there’s nothing to be happy about,” said Jared Dillinger, who had 14 points and five caroms in the match at Ynares Center in Antipolo. “It’s a long season though… We [shouldn’t] panic but it’s not fun right now.

“The Philippine Cup has been our Achilles heel and every damn Philippine Cup we get our ass kicked. I’m getting sick of it.”

In this game, Meralco missed the services of top forwards Ranidel De Ocampo and Cliff Hodge due to injuries. But for Dillinger, those issues shouldn’t be excuses.

“When you get two guys like Ranidel and Cliff out, as a team, that’s the opportunity for the guys below them to step up,” asserted Dillinger, who has been with the franchise since 2013.

“It doesn’t have to mean scoring, getting the assists or rebound, it’s just making the right play, being smart.”

Asked what went wrong in this particular loss versus their sister team, where they shot just 39.2 percent from the floor and had committed 17 turnovers, the 10-year veteran lamented the poor effort that the Bolts put up.

“TNT didn’t do anything much, given that they played well. But they didn’t have any secret schemes against us. They just passed the ball around, and they got open shots,” added the 10-year pro, as TNT made 23 assists and shot 18 triples.

“Our effort wasn’t there. We got to put up the intensity cause it sucks right now.”

Meralco have a chance to end their slump against the Kia Picanto this Wednesday. Dillinger sees it as a do-or-die affair, warning that it will be a grind-out affair knowing that the Picanto is coming off a skid-ending win over Rain or Shine.

Do-or-die ’cause that’s gonna be a playoff game. Thank God they beat Rain or Shine ’cause you don’t want to be that one team that gives the win to a 0-16 [team]. You don’t want to play teams like that,” stressed the all-around forward.

“Nothing to take away from Kia though. It’s gonna be tough.”

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