As JM de Guzman/Anthony Lagdameo (The Thing Called Tadhana) blurted it, “P***** I**. Suryal.” The UP Fighting Maroons, the perennial cellar dwellers and the butt of jokes in recent memory, are the number one team in the UAAP today. UP, basketball and number one altogether in a sentence? Surreal, indeed.
There were no Jamal Crawfordesque triples from Gelo Vito in the fourth quarter this time, yet the Fighting Maroons emerged victors over the heavily-favored DLSU Green Archers to remain unscathed this season. Once again, it was a balanced attack as a number of players contributed to UP’s cause on both ends of the court. Jett Manuel and Paul Desiderio, the two returnees who had a subpar opening game against UE, led the charge from the onset. Agustini Amar and Andrew Harris, in their best performances as Fighting Maroons so far, provided the sturdy defense to put DLSU’s main men Jeron Teng and Jason Perkins off to sluggish starts. The bench provided the spark that gave them lead as high as 17. All the right things went to the favor of Fighting Maroons at this game, even Mark Juruena, strangely, was able to make his best impersonation of Samboy Lim with his mind-numbing hangtime moves on several occasions. While the opposite can be said of the Green Archers. Teng was nowhere near from this true form. Perkins was not his usual self. The DLSU squad was not as feisty as the one that defeated the defending champs NU Bulldogs on their opening game.
But it was not as smooth sail throughout for UP as you would have thought to be. The Green Archers regrouped and mounted a huge surge in the final minutes. They applied fullcourt pressure in the closing stages, the same tactic that UE applied to UP in the last game, which forced the Fighting Maroons to waste some possessions and gave the Green Archers to score points easily. But it was a case of little too late as the Fighting Maroons ended their 10-game skid against them.
Game Notes and Observations
1. UP’s offensive sets are a thing of beauty.
While coach Rensy Bajar has been consistently barking that UP will put a premium on defense this season, it has been their offense that has been remarkably improved. Gone are the let-Mikee Reyes-do-his-thing offense as well as their 2-3 high plays which led to one bad shot selection after the other. You’ll now notice UP employing a lot of Horns sets (a scheme used by Ateneo and Adamson a lot before), and elevator screens to free up their shooters. There were also an instance where they had two weaves at the top of key which ended with a three-pointer from Pio Longa. And speaking of him…
2. Pio Longa’s shooting form is a thing of beauty as well.
Arguably, the best looking shooting form in the UAAP today. Smooth. Suave. Swish. Finally a true shooter for the Fighting Maroons.
3. Can Cheick Kone check his fouls?
Finally, UP has a very solid bigman in the mold of Cheick Kone. He has proven that he is a capable rebounder and intimidating presence in the paint. That is if he is on the court. Foul troubles have been limiting his playing time in the first two games. If he’ll manage his foul properly, then he and the team should be fine moving forward.
4. Is Andrei Caracut a one-dimensional player?
While he was blowing up the defense of UP with his array of moves and dazzling passing skills, he was getting killed on the defense by the likes of Manuel and Dave Moralde, especially at the post.
Starters: Asilum 7, Amar 7, Manuel 8, Juruena 7, Harris 8
Call it magic. Call it true. After two games, the UP Fighting Maroons are found in an unfamiliar territory — atop of the UAAP leaderboard. While it is too early for now to predict how will Season 78 unfolds, let us just savor these precious moments that we can still hail the Fighting Maroons as the undisputed kings of UAAP.