With their thirteenth straight loss against UST since 2006, the Fighting Maroons go down to 0-6 this season. But UP can proudly take this 69-79 setback because they really put up a good fight. This is one game where we can say that the Fighting Maroons were living to their monicker.
In my pregame article, I predicted that UST will flex their muscles early on and won’t look back. Even before the game, UP was already handicapped as their best frontcourt player Raul Soyud was handed a one-game suspension. This was announced after Soyud got his second unsportsmanlike foul this season in their outing against Ateneo. The team only found out about his suspension the night before the game; so major adjustments had to be made hurriedly.
No deadlocks, no lead changes and no huge runs for either sides. It was a wire-to-wire victory for UST, but it was not an easy one. The Fighting Maroons were able to hold their ground against the Growling Tigers for most of the game.
Reviewing Keys of the Game
1. Keep the players fresh
To everyone’s surprise, UST coach Pido Jarencio utilized a long rotation with 13 players in this game. Perhaps, he learned his lesson in their loss to FEU. Or probably, he is thinking a step ahead as they will face Ateneo on Saturday. Nevertheless, it turned out pretty well for them. Abdul, Mariano and Ferrer had some significant minutes to rest in the first half. UP was able to capitalize on that as they outrebounded the Growling Tigers, 23-22, at the half. But the long rest on the bench paid dividends for UST in the third quarter as Abdul, Ferrer and Mariano had an easy time scoring inside the paint and getting the rebounds which widened the gap to as much as 10 in the third canto.
Coach Ricky Dandan likewise utilized a long rotation but key players like Joseph Marata, Chris Ball, Jason Ligad, Henry Asilum and Martin Pascual logged in heavy minutes, more than their averages. UP was outhustled in the second half as the Growling Tigers outrebounded them by a large margin, 24-14. They also became sloppier as they committed nine turnovers in the second half, compared to only five in the first half.
2. Marata versus his defenders
Another surprising thing in this game is that Kevin Ferrer was not the designated stopper for Marata. But UST has this enviable luxury of long and athletic players like Brian So and Kim Lo that can defend the King Maroon. The So-Lo tandem proved to be good in limiting him. He might have matched his season average of 16 points but it was all hard-earned.
3. Who will step up?
This is probably the greatest silver lining UP can take from this loss. I like the energy of the entire team in this game. Give credit to the big men who stepped up in Soyud’s absence. Pascual managed to keep up with Abdul, aside from the third quarter mini-run. Third-string center Andrew Harris provided some energy and hustle in his brief stint on the court.
UP managed to have rebounding splits of 49/40/45 without the team’s leading and league’s third best rebounder. Chris Ball did his best impersonation of Soyud as he clobbered 11 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end. Kyles Lao was able to come back to form after a not-so-good game against Ateneo. Henry Asilum might have played the possible turnaround game of his season. Jason Ligad remained fearless, but he has to take better percentage shots. And how can I forget Julius Wong. He earned his minutes in this game by playing decently on both sides.
It will be interesting to see how the Fighting Maroons will perform on their last assignment for the first round against UE on July 27. They will try to avoid finishing the first round winless. With Soyud back in the mix and coming from the good individual performances against UST, it is only a matter of time and a few adjustments for UP to get that very elusive win. I am curious on how Dandan will allocate playing time, especially after this game where many, if not all, showed some poise and brilliance.