The first step has been taken and it is a big, resounding step.

The Soaring Falcons went on to claim their first opening game victory since UAAP Season 72 against NU. Long have the Adamsonian hopefuls waited for this opportunity to cheer on their team rabidly, and the players did not disappoint. It was dirty, it was messy, it was emotional and it was tough but the Soaring Falcons flew to their first victory, 79-67, at the expense of a hapless UP Fighting Maroons team.

Jericho Cruz put up 19 points by driving to the basket. (Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports PH)

Jericho Cruz put up 19 points by driving to the basket. (Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports PH)

On the backs of veteran focus and new-found muscle, the Falcons put up an exhibition, testament to the kind of force they will be this Season 76. The first UAAP game for the Falcons was the first UAAP game for many of the Falcons, fortunately, they seem to be showing good signs as early as now.

Reviewing Keys to the Game

  1. Eyes on the Prize. They did not let up for a second. No matter who they were against on the court, the Soaring Falcons did not allow themselves to succumb to a false sense of pride and security that somehow their opponent did not have it in them to beat them. From the get go, Jericho Cruz set the tone of the game scoring five straight points off a quick layup and an and-one from a steal. They continued to battle it out offensively and defensively, choosing their shots wisely while making life miserable for the Maroon shooters. At half time, UP was held to only 35% shooting on 31 shots from the field while the Falcons made 40% of their shots on the floor.
  2. In Coach We Trust. The team moved like clockwork this game. The only person who needed a bit of help from his teammates as to where to go next was Ingrid Sewa, who couldn’t quite remember where the next screen was, under the bright lights. Roider Cabrera, despite shooting an awful four of 12 from the field, got them all on open shots from his favorite areas. Jericho Cruz wasn’t left on his own on the iso, his drives to the basket were made possible by good off-ball movement from his teammates resulting in eight shots out of 16 from inside the three-point arc. Everyone else got their touches from where they were supposed to shoot, resulting in a fairly decent 48.4% shooting for the game.
  3.  Question on Point. Antonio Iñigo, better known as Axel, showed the team why he was brought there. In the 13 minutes that Ar-rauf Julkipli, Maui Bernabe and Ryan Monteclaro were on the bench, Iñigo put up six assists, two coming from him finding a slashing Harry Petilos and a Roider Cabrera. While Julkipli was the steady hand which started at the point for the Falcons, it was Iñigo’s aggressive play that swung the tide further toward Adamson’s favor. His point guard vision helped him re-energize the Falcons offense whenever they hit a rut. Ryan Monteclaro? He was put in at the dying seconds to try to put up a performance for his mom. Our hearts go out to you and your family Ryan.
  4.  Dancing in the Paint. It wasn’t hard to expect it, but with Sewa and Rodney Brondial in the lineup, the Falcons dominated the paint all game long. The pair pulled down a combined 19 rebounds, which meant they grabbed 23% of all the rebounds in the game. Other than the rebounding, Sewa had his way on offense under the paint. He shot a whopping 75% from the field on eight shots, all by literally muscling his way through the smaller UP centers and forwards. When he didn’t convert from the field, he made his charity shots count, hitting 100% (3 for 3) from the stripe the entire game. The Falcons ended up with a massive 53 to 29 rebounding advantage which gave them 16 second chance points as opposed to the 11 they gave up. It might not have been Greg Slaughter defending the paint but that is still something. Oh, and this marks Sewa’s UAAP debut with a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Yes, Sewa, you can smile all you like now, we’re happy too.
  5.  [_]ericho Cruz still couldn’t find his “J” but it didn’t matter. Yes, he air-balled a three pointer and missed every jumpshot he attempted, but it still didn’t prevent him from racking up 19 points. His score total should have been better as he shot an appalling 3 for 8 at the freethrow line. His teammates on the other hand, were able to stretch the floor with their long bombs. Brondial made shots further than he would have liked and Petilos was 80% from beyond the arc, all while Julkipli, Jansen Rios and Mike Agustin were happy making layups and put-backs.  What Cruz lacked in shooting he clearly made up by driving to the hoop. At least six of his 19 points came off fastbreak layups, testament to his awesome ability to make the defensive play and finish with a basket.

The good

They won big. They were able to do so by constantly attacking the rim and getting second chances. They attempted 48 shots from inside the arc and made 27 of them, they also got 16 second chance points. Sewa was able to go to work in the 3rd quarter, scoring 11 of his 15 points by muscling through defenders. The Falcon bigs rebounded well, Sewa with 10, Brondial and Cabrera getting 9 each while Julkipli helped their cause with 7 rebounds of his own. This is clearly a good sign of effort on both offense and defense.

The bad

They won by 12, it’s hard to find fault when you win by that much… or is it? Their freethrows continue to plague them. While Sewa was perfect, Cruz shot an atrocious 37.5% from the free throw line. The team shot a nauseating 56.5% from the charity stripe, but it was very lucky for them they didn’t need to hit any more than they did. Had the game been a lot closer, those 10 missed freethrows would have haunted them down the line. If they want to bang with the big boys, they have to pull off a similar performance to September 10, 2011 when they went perfect from the line. Anything less than that is walking on thin ice for them.

The take-away

This was the first game in what will be a grueling season for the Falcons. While they did make a lot of good plays and did a lot of things right this game, UP was still able to expose some weaknesses in their execution, especially against trap defenses. It’s an uphill battle from here until the end of the first round, so they have to use this win as a confidence booster to remind themselves how well they play when they can execute their plays. The UST Growling Tigers will be a tough opponent in their next game, so it’s going to be a LOT of practice for them until their Saturday matchup.