Finally, after all the hullabaloo in the scheduling of second round games, we all know now who the next opponent of the
streaking UP Fighting Maroons is — the Season 77 hosts, excellence in courage (but definitely not in scheduling), UE Red Warriors.
Could the sudden changes in the schedule be due to the injury sustained by UE superstar Roi Sumang in their victory over UST? Was this done by UE in order to rest him briefly so he’ll be healthier come around the latter stage of second round as the Red Warriors try to barge into the Final Four? Should they pit themselves next against the winless Adamson (as the final second round schedule is not yet released), then the conspiracy could only grow stronger. Nevertheless, UP, whose morale is on a high, should be armed and ready.
UP is coming off a bonfire celebration in the Sunken Garden, thanks to its 77-64 win over Adamson which halted their 720-day victory drought. On the other hand, UE, as mentioned earlier, eked out a 10-point win over the Growling Tigers despite missing the services of Sumang for a significant chunk of the game, no thanks to the mild sprain he suffered in the third quarter.
In their first round encounter which was the opening act of Season 77, the Red Warriors pummeled the Fighting Maroons, 87-59. From that game, we have witnessed the new identity of UE under the tutelage of Derrick Pumaren — frenetic pace on offense (they’re currently leading the league in pace, 84.8 possessions per 40 minutes), and menacing full court pressure on defense, a signature Pumaren scheme.
Keys to the Game
TAKE NOTE OF THEIR GUNNERS
With Sumang being more of a facilitator than a scorer so far this season (his assist rate has jumped from 26.4 percent last season to league-best 35.7 percent this season), the opportunity opened up for other UE players to contribute more on offense. Guys like Dan Alberto, Bong Galanza, and Paul Varilla have been deadly from the downtown. These three gunners have a combined 38.7 percent (way above the league average of 28.3 percent) conversion rate from the three-point area in UE’s first seven games. UP can’t afford to employ the often-used 2-3 zone as the Red Warriors, currently the best three-point shooting team at 33.6 percent, might annihilate them with a barrage of triples. The UP defenders have to keep in touch always with these gunners in order to curtail the threat they can impose.
REDUX OF REYES-GALLARZA EXPLOSION
That first win of UP in Season 77 would not have been possible without the unforeseen explosion from Mikee Reyes and JR Gallarza. Surely, UP would not mind a repeat of that outstanding performance from them in this game. Mikee, whose PER increased twenty-nine-fold (from 0.3 in the first six games to 8.7 after the win over Adamson), will be relied again for his playmaking and scoring prowess at the point guard position, hoping he could produce a similar, if not grander, production from him. On the other hand, Gallarza, a low-usage yet high-efficiency player (19.8% usage rate, and offensive rating of 101.4 points per 100 possessions), will be tasked to provide the three-point threat on offense (he’s making 35.7 percent of his three-point attempts this season), and much-needed rebounding presence (10.6 percent rebounding rate, second best in the team).
ON BREAKING THAT PRESS
As much as the UE full court presence is a beauty to watch (from a viewer’s standpoint), it has been a pest that their opponents have been trying to control, if not wipe out. In their first round meeting, UE forced UP to commit numerous turnovers, thanks to their full court press, which then translated to easy points for them. The Fighting Maroons have to find ways to beat this pressure. They could use a two-point guard lineup (Reyes and Henry Asilum), which we’ve witnessed against Adamson, to alleviate the pressure from just one point guard in bringing down the ball. They should also have a standard press-breaking offense that they have mastered because chances are UE will be pressing for most parts of the game.
If Sumang does play, this game could be UE’s easily, and it won’t be close. UP’s “winning streak” ends at one and the countdown to their next victory begins. However, if he does not, which is a probable proposition, UP might stand a chance to post back-to-back victories. That’s how valuable Sumang is to UE. He decides outcomes of games.
Perhaps, a promise of another bonfire celebration after the game from Dan Palami should the team win might motivate them. Do it, Dan! Do it!