UP Fighting Maroons def. NU Bulldogs, 82-71
Bright Akhuetie, UP (21 points, 9/12 FG, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, +12)
Another game, another double-double for Bright. Despite a slow start, Akhuetie managed to get in the zone in the next three quarters – credit also goes to his teammates for being able to feed the big fella at his go-to spots for the sure two and a couple of three-point play opportunities. There wasn’t that much of a contest between him and Issa Gaye as NU’s FSA was only able to tally a point and three rebounds in 17 minutes of play. It was definitely a “Bright” day for the guys in Maroon.
Paul Desiderio (12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, +5) and Jun Manzo (8 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, +13)
The boys from Cebu came to play in Ynares. Desiderio and Manzo were a combined +18 as they spearheaded the starting unit that featured two new players in Murell and Tungcab. Manzo was a joy to watch attacking NU’s defense in transition (save for that unneccessary off hand that was called for an offensive foul). As for Desiderio, he was able to hit big shots down the stretch, finishing with 8 of UP’s 22 points in that pivotal fourth quarter.
Gelo Vito, UP (10 points, 3 rebounds, 15 minutes of play)
This guy should be a regular starter. Not eye-popping numbers but the high-low action with Bright was solid. He’s the best big guy for the Fighting Maroons next to Akhuetie because of his ability to space the floor and find the open guy. 7 points in the 4th? Not bad, Mr. Vito.
Dave Ildefenso, NU (24 points, 6 rebounds, 3/7 3FG)
Let me repeat what I said in my Round 1 recap for UP vs. NU: “This guy is not playing like a rookie.” More than the numbers that he’s been putting up, it’s his body that has impressed me the most. He’s been able to bang with the veterans of the UAAP allowing him to score off drives and some post action down low. NU’s got something special here and the UAAP better watch out once his game matures in the next few years.
- Offensive Match-up: The team that put the ball in the hoop more, wins the game – and this is what UP did to NU. It sounds like such an obvious statement, but especially held true in this game. It was a record-setting afternoon for the Maroons as they shot a S81 league-best 53.62% to go with another league-best in 28 assists. The half-court offense of UP is still a work in progress (they shot an atrocious 1 of 16 from rainbow country!) but they made up for it by attacking in transition. There were a lot of fast break and secondary break opportunities for the Fighting Maroons who pounced on the poor transition defense of the Bulldogs. As a result, UP had the advantage in terms of points in the paint, 58-32. For NU on the otherhand, they got their points mostly outside but were betrayed by their three-point shooting – although slightly better than UP’s numbers, it’s still was an eyesore (4 of 23, 17.40%).
- Bench Production: 34-33 is the final count with NU edging UP out by a point – still a win for the Maroons though. The Juan GDL off the bench experiment and the Yeng Guiao-like shuffling of starters seems to be working wonders for Coach Bo. Aside from Juan who scored in double digits, there were also significant contributions from Vito, Prado, and Gozum. For NU, major props to Joshua Sinclair who once again scored 13 points (same as his output in their first round match-up) and to JV Gallego for their solid showing off the bench.
- Collapse Averted: From as high as 16 points, NU was able to trim the lead down to 7 with a few minutes left in the game. This was a testament to the grit and grind system of Coach Jamike Jarin. On the flip side, UP needs to have that full throttle mentality both on offense and on defense for 40 minutes. With the playoffs fast approaching, developing this as a team would be to their advantage. Good thing that Paul Desiderio and Gelo Vito delivered timely baskets to avert the probable collapse that would’ve severely affected their F4 chances.
- Moving Forward: NU has a few more games left in their schedule and with the way they played this game, they could still get a win or two to close out their season on a good note. For UP, the quest for an 8-6 card (as I predicted) is still alive. Now at 6-6, next up for them is a dangerous UST team. The Fighting Maroons need to do their homework as early as now to avoid a repeat of that shocking first-round loss against the Growling Tigers.