UAAP Juniors Basketball: The UST Tiger Cubs is a dark horse team in Season 80

All you need to know from week three of UAAP Juniors Basketball.

UAAP S78 Juniors - NU Bullpups - KC - Rhayyan Amsali - 1

NU remains unbeaten, but the UST Tiger Cubs sent a message

There were three teams viewed as perennial title contenders before this season started: the Ateneo Blue Eaglets, the NU Bullpups and the FEU Baby Tamaraws in that specific order. The Blue Eaglets had a star core lead by SJ Belangel, Dave Ildefonso, Kai Sotto and Jason Credo, while NU and FEU had their own respective stars in Rhayyan Amsali and LJay Gonzales respectively to lead their teams. There was no one team that was viewed as someone that could give the three teams above trouble.

The UST Tiger Cubs look to enter that conversation after the dog fight they had versus NU.

UST’s first two games were wins by reasonable margins, but there was very little reason to believe they would be able to keep close with the likes of NU. That completely changed, as the Tiger Cubs led by as much as 15 points during the game, even leading by 12 points entering the fourth quarter.

A big part for their performance was John Cansino, who scored 35 points, had 12 rebounds and 5 assists. That’s not to say that it was just a one man show by Cansino. Bismarck Lina (10 points, 17 rebounds) continued his monstrous tear, while the rest of the Tiger Cubs managed to keep in pace with the pressure of NU (101.04 Pace, 25 forced turnovers).

At the end of the day, NU’s blend of experience, talent and depth proved to be too much as Rhayyan Amsali (17 points, 12 rebounds, 5 steals) helped lead his crew to a hard fought victory (32-16 advantage during the fourth quarter). This is all part of the process for UST. But the message is clear: UST is a team to be taken seriously, for they have the talent and guts to give even the most talented of teams the most difficult time.

There’s another Manuel that we have to take note of in the UAAP

Jett Manuel is one of the players who many see responsible for UP’s uprising as of late. During his stint as a Fighting Maroon, he showed a lot of heart and guts, paired with some reliable scoring to boot to help try and lead UP to a Final Four slot. It turns out, he has a baby brother waiting in the wings as well.

When talking about the Ateneo Blue Eaglets, you will always hear the names Belangel, Sotto, Ildefonso, Credo and even former Blue Eaglet RV Berjay. Those five names are all former Batang Gilas players. They’re seen as automatic blue-chippers once they go into college.

Versus the FEU Baby Tamaraws, Belangel (15-7), Ildefonso (7-7-4), Credo (9-4) and Sotto (6-16) all struggled versus the defense given by FEU. As a whole, the Blue Eaglets only managed to score 37 percent of their baskets, and they committed a whopping 26 turnovers in the process. So how did the Blue Eaglets actually beat the FEU Baby Tamaraws by a comfortable margin?

A big part of that was their defense, as they forced FEU to shoot just 24 percent from the field. But in order to win games, you have to score. That’s exactly what Joaqui Manuel, baby brother of Jett Manuel, did.

He top-scored for Ateneo with 16 points on 5/11 shooting from the field. At the same time, he also grabbed 11 rebounds to pair with three blocked shots. That game in itself was a decent scouting report on Joaqui. He’s a combo forward with some mean shooting, and he uses his chunky frame to grab boards down low. Simple basketball, but effective nonetheless.

UAAP S78 Juniors - ADU Baby Falcons - KC - 1

Adamson Baby Falcons show its grit versus the DLSZ Junior Archers

Left without its best player in Jose Sabandal and facing a 14 point deficit to start the game, it would have been easy for the Adamson Baby Falcons to just fold. The Adamson team this season in general could have just folded. The exit of former head coach Goldwin Monteverde also meant several players followed suit. Instead they continue to fight, and that’s exactly what they did versus the De La Salle Zobel Junior Archers.

Only Andrey Doria managed to crack double digits for Adamson (15 points and 8 rebounds) but it was a team effort that led to this victory for Adamson. Six players in the team scored six points or more, while the rest of the team forced the Junior Archers to commit 23 turnovers, which led to 17 points for Adamson in the process.

The Soaring Falcons may be lacking in talent compared to the team that they had last year. But there’s no doubt about it, this team is gritty and will fight tooth and nail for a victory every game.

The UP Junior Maroons have to continue and trust the process

Let’s not be light about it: The UPIS Junior Maroons are not a premier basketball team. Last year, blue-chip talent Juan Gomez de Liano had a difficult time leading UP into the Final Four, and with Juan moving over to college, the shot at a Final Four slot became even murkier for UP.

That’s why it wasn’t surprising to hear UPIS lose their first two games by reasonable margins. They started out strong in both games, but the talent of their opponents proved to be too much to handle by the end of it all. It’s a mix of inexperience and youth

But the beauty with these Junior Maroons is that they have developable talent. Leading their youth movement is Jordi Gomez de Liano, the younger brother of Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano. He’s only played a couple of minutes this season, but those few minutes are valuable for a Grade 9 student like him. Yes, he still has three playing years after this. He’s still growing as well.

This win by UP versus the UE Junior Warriors will only make the process towards growth even better. Leading them against UE was Matt Santiago. He had 19 points and 11 rebounds. The Junior Maroons also have a new sibling duo in Ralph and Rafael Labao. The two combined for 29 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists.

The feeling of victory, no matter how bad or good an opponent is, is something that cannot be replicated by any other. It gives humans strength and belief in oneself. And for a young UP team, that’s exactly what they need: self-confidence. Trust the process, because eventually, it will be worth it.