The journey back to basketball relevance went off to a shaky start as the UP Fighting Maroons were simply dismantled by the UE Red Warriors, 87-59, in the opening game of Season 77. It was not the performance you’d hope to see from the Fighting Maroons who are raring to halt their 21-game losing skid in UAAP. In fact, it was reminiscent of the bad games from yesteryears.
In all fairness to UP, they showed some promise at the first quarter. The players are moving really well in the offensive sets. Dave Moralde and JR Gallarza were able to convert three-point shots which were decent looks. On defense, their 2-3 zone made it difficult for Roi Sumang to penetrate and forced the Red Warriors to take low-percentage midrange shots. Gallarza and Mark Juruena also managed to contain the crazy athletic Moustaph Arafat on the paint at the early going.
However, the good display by Fighting Maroons didn’t last long. From the second quarter, UP became the UP that we are accustomed to — spotty on defense and individualistic on the offense. The Red Warriors were able to break down the zone defense. And Dan Alberto went berserk and channeled the Danny Green in him as he knocked down five three-pointers including this halfcourt heave which was the commencement of his madness.
As the Fighting Maroons got broken in their defense, they were smothered on the offense. The fullcourt press, a signature defensive scheme by the Pumaren family, applied by UE pestered them and disrupted their offense schemes. The versatile Arafat was all over the court — from trapping the ballhandler in the backcourt to frustrating the UP frontline inside the paint.
All in all, UP was very unbearable to watch. It was the perfect mix of crappy offense and atrocious defense. It was tough seeing them playing at that kind of level to think that it was the first game of the season. We were expecting hunger and passion from them. On the other hand, UE was simply clinical in this match. Their offense and defense looked steady despite not getting much production from their mainman Roi Sumang.
Reviewing the Keys to the Game
Take Mammie out of his game
It was a surprise that Charles Mammie did not start the game, but UE has that enviable luxury because of Arafat. However, it was him who really did change the complexion of this game when he entered late in the first quarter. He was simply the force that we all witnessed last season. He was still the dominant rebounding machine and inside threat. His physicality was simply too much to handle by UP’s bigs, unlike Arafat who is relatively lanky (though he finished with seven points and 15 boards). On defense, Mammie was not needed that much as UP shown little effort to pound the ball inside, given their size disadvantage.
UP was perhaps also unfortunate that this occasional/out-of-the-blue explosions from UE’s bench guys like Dan Alberto and Ronnie De Leon happened in this game. Consider this an outlier performance from this two guys. It’s not every game that you’ll make five threes, including a halfcourt buzzer beater.
On the other hand, UP’s best offensive weapon in Kyles Lao (18 points) was perhaps the only UP bench guy who showed up as he played for 24 minutes. Which to me is puzzling. It is a rarity in basketball that your best offensive player (perhaps Dave Moralde disagrees) doesn’t play that much minutes, especially when your team has limited sources of offense. Also, he still balled hard despite the huge deficit in the closing minutes where you’ll see most of his teammates appeared lost and helpless already. That’s the guy you want to see more on the court and less on the bench.
More trips to the foul line
As a consolation, I’ll give this one a check mark. UP managed to attempt 25 free throws, but they only converted 15. Kyles Lao, who was a 71 percent free throw shooter last season, made only 6 of his 12 free throw attempts.
Where do we go from here?
Should we be wary with this performance of the Fighting Maroons? Perhaps. But this is only the first game. There are still 13 left for the season. Expect major tweaks in this lineup. Personally, I would like to see more of Kyles Lao and less of Mikee Reyes and his madness (who was 1-12 from the field).
This is a rough start in UP’s attempt to return to basketball relevance. This is a tough pill to swallow for us supporters. And it may be a blessing in disguise that we already encountered this at the beginning, in hopes that we’ll learn and we’ll get back up again. #UPFIGHT