My two beloved alma maters slugged it out at the Ninoy Aquino stadium last Sunday. Either way I'd win. But when it comes to the hardcourt, I'm a Maroon. (I'm an Eagle only in the moot court.)
I should feel bad we lost. But it's hard to be morose because my boys fought well, as well as they could given the breaks of the game and terrible refereeing (and, no, I'm not just saying that; The Coach just finished splicing the videotapes of the game to ferret out the too many bad calls on UP).
Binondo bettors had given our boys an advantage +4 margin, underscoring yet again the stark 3-inch differential between the two teams. My classmate at the Ateneo nicknamed our team the UP Midgets. He’s an RTC judge: who am I to tell His Honor to get lost?
The refs gave our boys a hard time. We were losing players, fast. Coach Joe Lipa wrung his hands in frustration. “Jerry!” he barked, calling out to the Maroons support staff handing out towels to the players evicted from the game. "Ikaw na nga ang maglaro! Inubos na nila players natin!”
The refs gave Ateneo an all-time high 49 free throws and slammed on UP a record 8 or so calls on traveling. Three or so years ago, DLSU Coach Franz Pumaren stormed the UAAP Commissioner’s office because the refs gave the opposing team 39 free throws—almost statistically improbable. And now the refs gave the Eagles 49 free throws? It meant Ateneo had to work for only a measly 50 points to win.
UP edged out Ateneo in other areas—rebounding, assists, two- and three-pointers. The game, alas, was decided on the free throws.
The Coach is careful not to give in to the conspiracy theories floating about; he’d rather think the refs were simply not trained well, pointing out that there were also a few (only a few!) bad calls on Ateneo. Others, however, unabashedly made connections between the timing and quality of the calls to the +4 betting in Binondo.
The Peyups forum, as expected, is crammed with catcalls and cussing, in which I am tempted to join if not for The Coach’s equanimity about the loss. The Coach knows they still have to work out some of the Maroons’ bad decisions, like not boxing out, and acknowledges the team’s youth. But he is proud of his boys’ hustle, of Galen Cacha, who was just pulled out from the Intrams and started learning how to play only six months ago, yet became a rebounding force. (I think I heard The Coach or someone call him Cacha Gotcha. Never mind that Cacha missed 8 free throws.)
The past two-and-a-half days, The Coach wore down our VHS, playing and rewinding by the microsecond the UP-Ateneo game, checking for flaws in the refereeing, as well in the UP play. I told him my heart was breaking listening to the endless rewinding of our loss, and he said, “Why? We fought a good fight.”
Big hearts, big fight. What more could a fan want?
* Picture of the basketball hoop is not mine. Caught it in one of my trawling trips but, regrettably, can't remember from whose site I borrowed it.