Palawan, yours truly made a prediction last week about an Ateneo – Adamson Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) finals match. Well, I was 50% accurate. From underdog status to sweeping the Adamson Falcons in their semifinal matchup, the UP Fighting Maroons set an All – Katipunan finals match starting December 1 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
It was a grueling week for the Maroons having to overcome a twice to beat advantage by Adamson with both games won by clutch baskets at the end zone.
The tables turned this time around as UP, victims of game-winning baskets from the Falcons’ Sean Manganti on both their elimination round games this season, returned the favor by winning with 2 point margins on both semifinal matches: first a game-winning backdoor play finished well by center Bright Akhuetie in game one and a clutch 15 foot jumper by team captain Paul Desiderio in the last few seconds of overtime in game two.
What a playoff match. Adamson and UP fought to the last minute of those two games. Needless to say, the players and coaches prepared very well for this face off.
I give kudos to the Falcons as they have shown tremendous poise and improvement since head coach Franz Pumaren took the reigns over in Muralla 3 seasons ago.
Now let’s go ahead and analyze what’s in store for us in this season’s UAAP finals match.
Ateneo Blue Eagles
Strengths: Thirdy Ravena, Angelo Kouame, Tab Baldwin and championship experience
Weakness: the power forward position seems to be lacking at the Ateneo.
A team with a reliable and solid MVP type wing player in Ravena, a 7’0 center in Kouame and a veteran international head coach in Tab Baldwin is expected to be rock solid in the playoffs. Add the championship experience of a backup crew in Mike and Matt Nieto, Tyler Tio, Isaac Go, Anton Asistio and Aaron Black, we are talking about a team that is a clear favorite to bring home the bacon anew.
The only thing I see going against Ateneo is the fact that UP is at an all-time high in morale. Let’s see how coach Baldwin’s crew reacts to this dynamic.
UP Fighting Maroons
Strengths: Momentum of a big final 4 win, the league Most Valuable Player Bright Akhuetie, a solid backcourt duo of Paul Desiderio and Juan Gomez De Liano.
Weakness: this team has no championship experience
A team that took 21 years to get back into the UAAP playoff picture is aiming for a Cinderella finish this year. Pure heart and guts brought the UP Maroons this far so do not expect them to just stand and be punching bags of the defending champs. Head coach Bo Perasol, himself a UP Maroon back in the 90’s gambled well in taking in Bright Akhuetie from the NCAA ranks last year.
I see coach Bo motivating this team like the good ole coaching legend Joe Lipa who did the same tactic to win the 1986 classic for the Maroons over the heavily favored UE Red Warriors 32 years ago. Coincidentally, coaches Lipa and Perasol have a common denominator on their rosters. A good and solid center in Benjie Paras (UP circa ’86) and Akhuetie (current roster).
Folks, the Battle of the Katipunan is going to be a media sensation starting this weekend. Expect the Mall of Asia Arena to be jam-packed through the rafters.
Whatever the outcome of this series, we basketball-loving fans are bound to be in for a treat.
I encourage the basketball coaches in Palawan to watch the offensive and defensive tactics and strategies that both benches will employ in this series. We are all in for a treat!
(The writer is a senior leader of the only Business Process Outsourcing company in Puerto Princesa. He also is the current Puerto Princesa Underground River Festival Foundation President)
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