UP Fighting Maroons def. NU Bulldogs, 89-88
Juan Gomez De Liano (20 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals)
It would be a basketball sin not to put Juan’s name here everytime UP plays. More than the points he can put up at any given night, it’s his vastly improved passing skills that has impressed me the most this season. That nifty pass to Paul Desiderio for the fastbreak layup? Beauty. But his shooting clip at the foul line this game was something else. 1 of 6 (17%)? That was ugly. More on this later.
Javi Gomez De Liano (19 points*, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal)
Javi came to play today and showed everybody that there are TWO *cue in Tej Parker’s voice* GDL’s in Diliman. His 19 points off the bench (able to contribute significantly per quarter) was a huge lift for the Maroons. If he can do this consistently, the league better watch out.
Bright Akhuetie (21 points*, 20 rebounds)
Another day in the office for Mr. Brightside. UP had the advantage in terms of inside points (52-44), thanks to Bright’s activity down low. His leadership was also key, scoring seven (7) of his 21 points in that all-important 4th quarter. Also worth mentioning was that he was the one who pacified a heated Juan GDL at one point in the game.
Dave Ildefenso (20 points*, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal)
This guy is not playing like a rookie. His motor is just something else. For sure, the ROY race would be neck-and-neck between him and CJ Cansino (I’m sorry, Will Gozum).
Issa Gaye (11 points, 8 points in the 4th, 7 rebounds)
What a 4th quarter by Gaye. It was fun to watch him go toe-to-toe against Bright. His production was instrumental in NU’s fight back, setting up that cardiac finish.
Note: *UAAP career-high
- Hustle Stats. It was the effort and the hustle that kept NU in the game. They were able to run the break better (Fastbreak points: 23-15, NU) and take advantage of UP’s poor transition defense. In terms of rebounding, NU also had the advantage despite Bright’s 20-rebound outing (56-48, NU). Offensive rebounds were pretty even with (20-19), but the Bulldogs were more productive off the glass (Second chance points: 20-10, NU). It was not that bad on UP’s end though as they were able to force 15 turnovers on top of 7 steals – one reason they were able to make a run and erect a lead as high as 18 points.
- Bench Production. Advantage goes to NU once again, 42-26. Of UP’s 26 points, 19 of them came from Javi GDL. A welcome sight was Diego Dario’s contribution but that’s about it. It’s pretty obvious now that UP is a top-heavy team. UP needs to have at least two more guys that can contribute to lighten the load of the starters. Jaboneta? Prado? Anyone? For NU on the other hand, it was a well-balanced attack, a testament to Coach Jamike Jarin’s system and the mentality of his wards to stick to the game plan. Gallego, Shaun Ildefenso, and John Lloyd Clemente provided solid contribution off the bench. Special mention goes to Joshua Sinclair who isn’t usually a starter, able to pour in all of his 13 points in the 1st half.
- Free throws. The story of the game. The Fighting Maroons missed 19 freakin’ free throws (11 of 30). It wasn’t only Juan GDL who struggled from the foul line, even the usual reliables had a hard time drilling those freebies. NU’s gamble to play the foul game almost paid off as UP bricked several crucial free throws late in the game. Bright said it best, it’s just one of those off days for his guys. Expect them to have a better shooting clip moving forward as this almost cost them a W.
- Finishing the Game. UP’s inability to close out games was on full display. Again. It was like a flashback of the Adamson and the La Salle game. Not to discredit NU who has shown it can compete against the top dogs of the UAAP but UP should have finished them after mounting a double-digit lead in the 2nd half. If UP continues to play like this, their Final Four aspirations might be in jeopardy. A win is a win, but squeaking past teams won’t always be enough. Against experienced title contenders, play like this and say goodnight to that sweet W. UP has the talent, no doubt. It’s more of that mental aspect that needs work actually. At this point in the season, it’s very pivotal that Coach Bo and the Fighting Maroons get their act together. There’s no turning back now, not only for UP but for all the other teams as well.