What an awesome collegiate basketball Sunday we witnessed on TV, Palawan.
Playing at the Mall of Asia Arena, the University of Sto. Tomas Growling Tigers and the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons did not disappoint as both teams came out victorious in a pair of nail biting encounters against the National University Bulldogs and the Adamson Falcons respectively.
Let’s summarize both games and dissect that goods and the flaws that hopefully the coaching staff can sustain and fix as the season progresses.
UST over NU 87-74
I didn’t expect NU to actually give the Tigers a good run for their money. I thought UST was in a class of their own after fighting tooth and nail against the Ateneo Blue Eagles, last year’s defending champs, but coach Jamike Jarin should be given credit as he obviously did his homework in scouting UST’s Tiger mayhem system. In the end, rookie Rhenz Abando waxed hot in the 3 point area that bailed UST out in overtime.
In the battle of foreign imports, Tiger Soulemane Chabi Yo, a recruit from the Colegio de San Lorenzo Griffins, outclassed Issa Gaye of NU with a dominant 23 point and 20 rebound performance..
UST continues to impress this season and are now at a 3-1 win loss slate. What really works for coach Aldin Ayo is the fact that he has assembled a team that can run … on both ends of the court that is. Not only are they quick on the break, you will witness all five players hustling down on defence, whether in applying the full court trap or when they need to collapse down as the press is broken. Ayo enabled the Tigers with agile guards and wings with bigs that can run the floor.
They are relatively small at the four position with Sherwin Concepcion barely standing 6’3. This is a spot that opponents will try to exploit … NU tried incursions from Shaun and Dave Ildefonso along with point guard Enzo Joson which kept Bulldogs toe to toe with the Tigers in regulation.
Foul trouble got the better of NU as they lost Dave Ildefonso and Gaye to foul trouble in overtime. The UST onslaught in the extra period should not be taken lightly though. They played like veterans even if they play 3-4 rookies at a time. That’s how deep and how creative Aldin Ayo’s bench wizardry is.
UP over Adamson 83-82
Kobe Paras did not disappoint us in his long awaited debut leading the Maroons with a 20 point output with a win over Adamson in extra time. The crucial baskets were delivered by import Bright Akhuetie via two pressure packed free throws with less than 3 seconds left that sealed the win for UP.
Kobe was a constant threat in the game with timely incursions. He did show a small chink in his armor though … he struggled from deep. Hopefully with a few extra sessions, he could start nailing the three because if not, he will be very predictable this season.
Adamson has a solid point guard combo in Jerome Lastimosa and Valandre Chauca. Their trademark Franz Pumaren press is still solid even in today’s collegiate realm. Even import Lenda Douanga can keep up with the press and is effective in cleaning up the mess for Adamson.
It took a solid third quarter rally from UP, clawing their way from a double digit half time deficit, to turn the tide to their favor. In overtime, it was clear that it could be anyone’s ballgame and true enough it was a nip and tuck affair in the extra five minutes until Bright stepped up to the plate and nailed the charities to keep Adamson in check.
The way the first few games have been played here in season 82, it seems like a wide open race for the final four spot to be contested by all teams. Even if NU is still winless at this stage, all of their games were decided in the last minutes of the game. UE also upset La Salle on Saturday that kept basketball fans guessing as to who would make the semis this season.
A more balanced UAAP is upon us with only Ateneo seeming to be a cinch to make it to the playoff round. Watching collegiate games has always been a passion of yours truly and this past weekend did not disappoint.
Curiously, Tab Baldwin, the Ateneo head coach, was himself watching the pair of contests with notebook and pen on hand. He is obviously scouting both games and most probably reading the UST Tigers a lot more specially with Ateneo just winning over them by a solitary margin last week. I am sure he went home with a lot of scribbled strengths and weaknesses of the four teams he scouted. Baldwin is known to read opposing teams and players very well. You know he can’t just be known as a good international basketball coach by not doing his homework.
Yours truly believes he should be our next Gilas Team Pilipinas head coach. I am sure he can balance a mix of PBA veterans with a core of young collegiate players to form a 24 player pool he can rotate between tournaments. He is a surgeon who can dissect plays and is always a student of the game. Let’s see if he gets the nod for the SouthEast Asian Games coaching job, Palawan.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)