WORDS by Miguel Caramoan
As FEU continues to search for answers, Bryan Sajonia is expected to provide an extra jolt in order to push them for another trip in the Final Four.
Season 85 has been pretty odd for the standards of the FEU Tamaraws. A 0-5 start looked like a deep hole to recover from. Then they suddenly racked up four straight wins to put them back in contention. And now FEU are once again on a skid, losers of three consecutive games. But somehow and someway, they are still in the thick of things.
So it’s only fitting that we discuss in detail what and why this roller-coaster of a season transpired for the Tamaraws.
Coming into the season, there was already a tough predicament that FEU had to face–which was replacing RJ Abarrientos. Being their top scorer last season (13.7 points on 48.9 TS%), it surely left a void on offense, of course because of the scoring production, and most importantly, the attention he attracts that opens up optimal opportunities for other teammates.
Although his backcourt partner LJay Gonzales, who is equally as talented as Abarrientos, remains to be stellar as the go-to-guy for FEU, he still needs the help. And identifying that consistent second fiddle for the Tamaraws has been an adventure.
Patrick Sleat started out of the gate on fire but cooled off since. Foreign student-athlete Pat Tchuente was unplayable during the first round. Cholo Anonuevo hasn’t been up to par scoring-wise. Xyrus Torres has struggled to find his steady shooting touch that made him lethal in Season 84.
However, if there is one player that could be considered as the X-factor from the Tamaraws roster so far this season, it might be Bryan Sajonia.
Let’s keep it real before we dive in though, neither Sajonia has been the definitive number two guy for FEU. Offense has stayed sporadic even in his good spurts, as the Tamaraws rank sixth in offensive rating with 12 games in—a drop-off from being the second best offense last season, per Stats by Ryan.
Sajonia’s numbers aren’t as impressive efficiency-wise too, with 10.9 points on 35/20/77 splits (44.2 TS%) in 23 minutes in 10 games played. But what matters most is that when he gets the job done, it has translated into better results for the Tamaraws.
Now that we’ve laid the numbers game, it’s time to dig into some film to see where Sajonia has thrived.
FEU’s breakthrough win over the UST Growling Tigers could be the perfect example where Sajonia might be used most effectively and encapsulates his Season 85 outing as well. In that dub, he had 23 points on a solid 63% shooting from the field.
Sajonia did it in a variety of ways, but majority of them with him not being ball dominant in possessions. For context, FEU has the second worst assist mark in the league, with only 15 dimes per game. And why does the stat matter in this particular part? Because when Sajonia makes those timely cuts, it dismisses the stagnancy of the Tamaraws’ offense, as the ball fizzes around.
Not a big sample size in this specific game, but when Sajonia is decisive to attack the rim, good things happen for FEU. It helps that he is able to read what the defense allows him, but what’s more evident in these downhill drives is that there is no wasted movement.
Aforementioned earlier was the shooting woes of Sajonia this whole season. This game exactly explains that thought, as he shot 100% from 2s (10/10) and went 16% (1/7) from the rainbow country. Did it matter? No. But will it matter in the coming games? Sure does.
Even with the facets of Sajonia’s scoring that contributes well to the Tamaraws’ offense, draining those long range shots might be a low-hanging fruit. From being a 42.9% shooter from 3 (3 attempts per game) to a lowly 20.4% (5.4 attempts per game) is just too much of a drop that a struggling shooting team (24.53% – 6th in the UAAP) can’t afford.
If we further zoom in, Sajonia was a terrific catch-and-shoot guy from deep last season. According to InStat, he shot a spectacular 50% (15/30) in that playtype that probably prompted other teams to pay attention to his ability to make the 3.
But if there is a bright spot that Sajonia unlocked, it’s his improved movement shooting. In Sajonia’s first six games, he was able to make 72.7% (8/11) of his 3s of screens. Again, the ask now by the Tamaraws is that he is able to be hit these shots on a regular basis.
This past week wasn’t the best of stretches for Sajonia, as he only managed to score a single field goal in their games against UP and Ateneo. It’s unfortunate that those games had huge implications in the playoff seeding, especially the game against the Blue Eagles where they squandered a 19-point lead.
As a long-time hoophead in the UAAP, I must say that I’ve grown accustomed to watching the FEU Tamaraws in the Final Four. That’s why they are one of the best basketball programs in the country, because talent always finds its way to their squad—and this year’s batch isn’t lacking much too.
With two games left to save their Season 85 stint, FEU knows that destiny is still beyond their control. All is not lost for the Tamaraws, but the legitimate concerns should be answered as soon as possible.
[Photos by Vyn Radovan]