It was a topsy-turvy, yet exciting kind of weekend of UAAP hoops. It was utter mayhem, but we missed every bit of it. Some takeaways from the opening weekend of UAAP Season 81:
The new-look UP Fighting Maroons and UE Red Warriors
Aside from a few rookies and transferees, the UP Fighting Maroons and the UE Red Warriors came in Season 81 mostly intact. You know who they main guys were from the get-go. UP would lean on Paul Desiderio and Juan Gomez de Liano with their scoring, while all eyes were on Alvin Pasaol for the side of UE.
After their first game of the season, it remained that way with some Bright Akhuetie and Jojo Antiporda sprinkled into the fray. But there was still something new with both teams, and it’s centered around their respective systems.
Coach Joe Silva came into the UE program with little fanfare despite an impressive resume coming out of the High School ranks. While they went through the preseason unnoticed, he made sure that the Red Warriors were going to work. His main goal was to instill a winning culture and a system that would maximize each and every player.
Early on versus UP, it showed. The Red Warriors could be seen running sets similar to that from Silva’s Blue Eaglets days, with plenty of pindowns and elevator screens being used to free up shooters. Sprinkle this in with big men who knew how to dive after the initial screen, and you have a recipe for success.
The same could be said of the UP Fighting Maroons, as Coach Bo Perasol showed there’s more to him and his *insert elite guard here*-centric system. For most of the game, the Fighting Maroons veered away from just dumping the ball to Paul Desiderio, and played a more holistic style of basketball. Juan Gomez de Liano was a revelation, dishing out assists left and right while attacking the basket with purpose.
The most impressive part of their opening game was Desiderio embracing the role of no longer being THE system. He shot a horrid 6/24 from the field, but most of these were misses that came off good action. He just wasn’t making shots. UP stuck to their guns despite his struggles, and continued to make the extra pass along with setting off-ball screens for each other.
At the end of the day, what separated the two teams was experience. UP looked more compose despite UE’s runs, while the Red Warriors failed to stick to their system when UP answered back with their own onslaught.
UP looks good, others are already pencilling them in for the Final Four (not Aljo Dolores though). Running their system with that much fluidity is a step in the right direction. UE, despite the ugly final spread, showed promise. It’s only a matter of building from their struggles, on to greater things.
The kids are alright
Coach Aldin Ayo and Coach Jamike Jarin going up against each other is always a treat to watch, but what made the UST Growling Tigers-NU Bulldogs game so entertaining were because of two young wings: CJ Cansino and Dave Ildefonso.
Wings coming out of High School have arguably the least bust-potential since it’s a position with limited depth, but Ildefonso and Cansino didn’t just settle for “not busting”. They didn’t look like rookies at all, showcasing fearlessness, skill and composure unheard of from players coming out of High School.
For a team with veterans such as Issa Gaye (who had like 4,930,853,205,982 blocks by my count) and Dave Yu, it was Ildefonso who shined the brightest for the Bulldogs. He looked every bit the star we expected coming out of the Ateneo High School program. He drove to the rim with zero care for who was in front of him, and showcased a unique blend of strength, footwork and patience as he attacked the basket. It’s the new age of Ildefonso. Hop in.
The UST Growling Tigers came into this season with *some* form of excitement largely because of Coach Aldin Ayo, but uncertainty still filled the air. Who would carry their load with Jordan Sta. Ana and Regie Boy Basibas gone?
It wasn’t even by design, but it was CJ Cansino who held fort for a UST offense that needed a spark during the second half. He already showcased impeccable slashing ability off coast-to-coast drives during the first half, but he switched to another gear when UST started to face double digits in the second half. He didn’t demand for the ball, instead it found him. He took advantage of every opportunity, making big baskets down the stretch like a seasoned veteran.
The kids are alright. They’re not just “safe” players. You can see Cansino and Ildefonso as more than capable prospects who present a bright future for both UST and NU.
The FEU Tamaraws and the DLSU Green Archers remain elite
A final score of 68-61 isn’t pretty by any means. When you factor in that both teams scored less than 35 percent of their field goals, then it becomes even uglier. But to mistake their struggles as a result of just being bad would be irresponsible. A large part of the low score was the impeccable defense being played by both FEU and La Salle.
These two teams know each other to the T. They’re modern day rivals, having been involved in a number of memorable clashes, and from the past two seasons, brawls. There’s plenty of bad blood between these two squads, and despite the departure of some key personalities, you could still feel the tension in the air. To showcase the intensity, both teams didn’t use fists, or chairs. They instead used their art form: the game of basketball.
Both teams did not allow each other to get comfortable offensively, making sure that the defense would stay focused despite the multitude of screens being set. It was a physical contest, but the quality was certainly there. Both teams still played the right way, relying on intellect while playing their physical style of play.
At the end of the day, it was FEU that won over DLSU thanks to some huge shots by Arvin Tolentino and Jasper Parker.
Make no mistake about it: these two teams are elite. Ron Dennison, Ben Mbala and Ricci Rivero may be gone, but the FEU Tamaraws and the De La Salle Green Archers remain among the UAAP’s best.
Adamson and Ateneo teach us that to sleep on anyone is a sin
This is a story of two contrasting sides: the Adamson Soaring Falcons who were slept on during the preseason, and the Ateneo Blue Eagles who some fans are starting to count out after one game.
Adamson wasn’t talked about during the preseason. Nevermind their escapades in the PBA D-League. No out outside of San Marcelino was giving them a chance versus the Ateneo Blue Eagles. Only a few believed in them, and the Soaring Falcons repaid that trust with a performance for the ages.
Despite being down by as much as 11 points during the first half, the Soaring Falcons never faltered and continued to fight. It’s as if they were playing with nothing to lose, knowing that they were overwhelming underdogs coming into the game (The spread had Adamson at +11.5. Imagine that.). All of their effort paid off, with one monster run that shifted momentum to Adamson’s side. They wouldn’t relinquish that control, and by the end of the game, they wound up with the victory almost no one expected them to get.
Then there’s the Ateneo Blue Eagles, who some are suddenly questioning after losing their first game of the season. You have to understand that this group is arguably one of the most hyped Ateneo teams of all time, and for good reason. The performance they put up during the preseason was amazing to watch. Expectations were at an all-time high, and to see the Blue Eagles look that flustered in their first game was surprising, even for the haters.
That’s why there are some fans and analysts that are suddenly questioning about where the Blue Eagles stand. There’s certainly talent on the team, but is this group really as good as advertised? A lot of questions were raised after their first game. But one thing is for sure: You absolutely cannot sleep on these Blue Eagles. Just like how most people slept on Adamson. Because the moment you blink, that’s when they can strike and pound you down to the ground.
Adamson’s 1-0. Ateneo’s 0-1. It was just the first game of the season, so everyone else should remain careful. Don’t sleep.