WORDS by Miguel Caramoan
The first game of the Battle of Katipunan rematch this Season 85 didn’t disappoint. UP started on a house of fire, but Ateneo kept the game at shouting distance setting up another thrilling finish. This effort would not be enough as the Fighting Maroons claimed the victory 72-66 last Sunday to push themselves on the brink of repeating as champions.
For UP, their depth came into play and was the spelling difference the whole game. Great performances from JD Cagulangan, Harold Alarcon, and presumptive MVP Malick Diouf proved vital to the team’s success. But the biggest contribution that had the most impact for the team was the play of Zav Lucero.
Let’s first look at his statline: 14 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and two important shot blocks in almost 33 minutes of action. A solid outing that was felt more than the numbers. Thus, it merits some of our precious time to discuss it extensively.
Before delving to Lucero’s impressive Game 1, only fitting that we check his season so far. After being hailed as one of top five players in Season 84, for Lucero’s standards, this season has been relatively quiet.
As to how spectacular last season was for Lucero, a stat named Box Plus/Minus provided by Stats by Ryan had him as the Fighting Maroons’ second best player – only behind Malick Diouf. Indeed, he was a revelation that garnered much attention by all the other competing schools.
Not to say that the drop-off is considered substantial (slightly lower averages in both points, rebounds, and minutes played), expectations have somehow affected the way people perceived Lucero. UP also has the luxury of fielding extremely talented players in the same position that enabled them to remain successful in both Carl Tamayo and Malick Diouf. Just a stacked frontline, I must say.
A great devil’s advocate to that argument is Lucero’s improved shooting from deep (20.6% to 34%), paired with higher volume of attempts (1.79 to 3.3). Nice wrinkle to add to continue keeping the defense honest on him.
So yes, Zav Lucero was still really good this season. It may be as loud as what he did last season, but the 6’7” player made sure to add more to his arsenal, which the team might need in this stretch and he’ll be needing for the longevity of his career.
Now we’ve laid a brief background on how Lucero has fared this season, the hope is that it all made sense why he was the next man up for UP last weekend. Also worth noting was the lackluster showing of Lucero in their second round encounter with the Blue Eagles, where he didn’t even score a point on a 0-11 shooting from the field. Good thing, Lucero was able to bounce back when it mattered the most.
Bear with me, as I try my best to explain some Lucero stuff here. Yeah, we all know who’s the GOAT at doing it for UP (shouts to Ryan Alba!). But let’s dig in.
The Fighting Maroons’ first basket came from Lucero, in a fashion we’re all accustomed to him doing – finishing around the rim. Percentages might have dropped down from him scoring in the paint (53% to 44%), he remains effective scoring off cuts, which was shown in this possession. Per InStat, Lucero generates 1.12 PPP on cuts, his second efficient playtype.
Practically, a pretty good conclusion to come up is that Lucero dominated his match-up against Kai Ballungay. In this instance, he made sure to punish the inability of Ballungay to guard quicker guys in the perimeter to earn a paint touch and eventually fish a foul on Ange Kouame.
Most of his influence on Ballungay was clamping him up on defense. Among all the Fighting Maroons have on their squad, the combination of speed and length of Lucero proved bothersome against him. Look at the contest Lucero did to force a wild shot.
Throughout the season, Lucero has proven his wares defensively, which the numbers also agree on. Some useful data from InStat tracked that Lucero has only forced the players he guarded 0.81 PPP in transition, 0.69 PPP in isolations, and 0.67 on catch-and-drives.
If you find these terminologies foreign, the simple description is that more than likely you won’t score than to score when Zav Lucero is defending you.
The biggest imprint of Lucero in this game was probably his rim protection, especially in the fourth quarter. This clip below isn’t going to be the two blocks he had in crucial stages nor is it a block itself. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being in position and vertically in position to alter shots at the cup.
Here’s the much talked about plays of the game of Lucero. With the lead down to a precarious two-point lead at 58-56 for UP, it looked like Ateneo was prime to finally take the momentum of the game, until Lucero just said no. There’s really nothing to say but impeccable timing and using your advantage (wingspan) to its fullest.
This one is the second block of Lucero that probably sealed the deal. A stop on Ange Kouame should obviously impress you, but peep at the multiple efforts he did here to contain the reigning MVP. That’s just the story of the game, Lucero willing his team to a win through his relentlessness.
Playing his final year for UP, it might be an understatement to say that Zav Lucero is eager to deliver another UAAP championship. With Carl Tamayo still nursing an injury, Lucero understands the importance of stepping up to the challenge, which he is more than capable of producing.
Coming into Game 2, expect Ateneo to put up their best fight to force a rubber match. If the UP Fighting Maroons want to avoid this scenario to happen a duplicate of Zav Lucero’s performance in Game 1 will be necessary.
[Photos by Vyn Radovan]