This was a moment two years in the making. What were only mere expectations before the start of Season 81 has now turned into reality. The Ateneo Blue Eagles have booked an outright trip to the Finals after sweeping the elimination round of UAAP Season 82.
What once felt like an inevitable possibility turned into actual reality. Yet despite this result having been expected already, questions are still aplenty regarding this season. The most pressing one: Who can beat the Ateneo Blue Eagles?
Only three teams remain: the UP Fighting Maroons, the FEU Tamaraws, and the UST Growling Tigers. Forcing these teams to adjust dramatically seems futile; they’re too deep into the season already. But what these teams can do is embrace their strengths and work off that in the hopes of toppling the Goliath that is Ateneo. Let’s take a look at what each team brings to the table for their championship chase.
UST Growling Tigers: Explosive Firepower
Three is greater than two. It’s the trend in today’s basketball which was introduced by the Golden State Warriors and concretized by the Houston Rockets. In the Philippines, there have only been a few teams who have tried to embrace this. In the UAAP, the Growling Tigers have chosen to turn this into an important part of their identity.
The Growling Tigers lack the size expected out of usual championship teams. What they choose to do to make up for their small lineup is with unpredictable play.
As individuals, the Growling Tigers are talented. But when summing up all of their players up into one group, the whole created is much larger than the sum. That whole is a team that’s explosive and filled with plenty of firepower. That’s essentially the story of UST: they need to get ridiculously hot if they want to beat the Blue Eagles. Because when they’re blazing, they become close to impossible to stop.
FEU Tamaraws: Discipline and Defense
It took awhile for the FEU Tamaraws to figure things out this season, but boy, has the wait been worth it. From being projected to not even make the Final Four, the Tamaraws have flipped the script to turn into potential Finals contenders. They don’t have the talent nor firepower of UP and UST respectively, but they make up for it with incredible discipline.
Their play this season has been a testament to how good of a coach Olsen Racela is. Their defense has been stout all season long, but their offense only caught up during the second round. It took time but it paid off with trust in the groundwork laid by the FEU coaching staff. The result of this trust in their offensive system has been beautiful basketball. It often starts with penetration by LJay Gonzales, and flows incredibly well with smart swinging of the ball around different parts of the court.
They’re still a very raw team at their core. But if FEU wants a shot at beating Ateneo, they need to trust in their system and coaching staff and simply do what they do best: defend and run their system
UP Fighting Maroons: Undeniable Talent
While a disciplined system can be taught, talent isn’t something that can be passed on to just anyone. If discipline determines ones floor, it is talent that raises one’s ceiling. Potential causes people to salivate about possibilities. The challenge then is to turn those possibilities into reality.
Such is the story of the UP Fighting Maroons. Despite winning all of their games in cardiac fashion, they’re still undoubtedly the most talented team in the UAAP. Their premier talents are top of the line while their back-ups have capabilities other bench players simply don’t have.
What UP still needs to prove is if they can translate their talent to winning basketball against the Blue Eagles. At the very least, they have natural tools they can work with in the hopes of succeeding in this task. It’s tough, but it can be done. The Fighting Maroons have the talent; that’s a start. The playoffs is the perfect time for them to put it all together. Their players need to start understanding their roles and playing within their system instead of trying to go beyond it. If the Fighting Maroons can put it all together, anything is possible for this team.