Through a statement released to the public this afternoon, the UAAP decided to mete out a three-game suspension to UP Fighting Maroons head coach Bo Perasol. This was after his altercation with a referee last Sunday during the third quarter of their game versus the Ateneo Blue Eagles. As of this writing, Coach Bo is looking to appeal the length of three games but one thing looks pretty sure: He will be suspended for at least one game. That in itself matters, especially given UP’s current situation as a team.

Many have proudly bannered UP’s 5-2 record as reasons to be optimistic for the upcoming round and you know what, those people are right! To come out as the second ranked team with that kind of record in a UAAP THIS open is an achievement in itself. There is nothing wrong at looking at the bright side, especially when coming off a loss that big versus your rivals.

But what seems more apt is for UP to be cautiously optimistic. It can’t always be about the bright side or the positives. At the end of the day, there are things to work on, especially after getting blown out. Like what some coaches have preached, a coach’s job isn’t to be a cheerleader. Their job is to guide their players to doing the correct things and that includes pointing out mistakes, no matter how painful these may be.

UP’s mistakes starts with the 2 in 5-2; their two losses. During the first weekend of UAAP basketball, the UST Growling Tigers beat them by 16 points, the breakout win for Coach Aldin Ayo this season. A few days back, Ateneo beat them by 26 points to further stamp their class as the league’s elite. But wait, why even point out those two losses, when in the first place, they’d won five other games which catapulted them to the second seed after the first round?

After their first seven games, UP ended with an average point differential of -3.86. For context, that’s the second worst in the league just ahead of seventh-placers UE Red Warriors. That stat tells us two things: 1) Their losses versus Ateneo and UST were that big and 2) their five wins were that tight. It’s simple Math. They have a negative point differential. That means the sum negative was larger than the sum positive. 

All of the Fighting Maroons’ won games have been single digits victories. They survived a furious FEU rally by six points. Versus Adamson, they made a run during overtime to win by one point. The next game, NU’s rally fell short as UP escaped with a one point win. Versus UE, Jaydee Tungcab’s three-point shot gave them enough of a cushion to win by six points. Against La Salle, Juan Gomez de Liano saved the day with a pull-up three to give UP another one point win.

As early as now, I will pinpoint my use of words. Survived. Escaped. Saved. In fact, some UP fans have even played along with this, comparing the games of the Maroons to students merely trying to graduate by passing classes. These games have been thrillers. In fact, these games have shown the grit and toughness of these UP teams to perform amidst high-pressure situations. Or, the word that’s commonly been associated to the Fighting Maroons: Puso. Atin to, papasok to. It’s what UP has held on to ever since contending even became a reality for them and it has definitely been a big factor for their ascent to championship contention. 

There is nothing wrong with playing close games. In fact, there is nothing wrong with showing heart in these close games. In fact, you won’t be able to win games without showing some form of effort or care which comes from a genuine desire to succeed. The Fighting Maroons have that. But it can’t be JUST that. 

Utak AT Puso. Hindi puso lang. The five wins showed their heart, but their two big losses showcased their need for improvement.

UP’s offense has not looked as fluid as it did last season and it shows in the stat sheet. Last year, they were far and away the top team in terms of assists with 19.9 per game. This year, they’ve taken a huge dip by averaging just 13.7 after seven games. The reduction of assists has also affected their shooting, as from being ranked second in three-point percentage, they’ve dropped to being the second worst three-point shooting team in the league. 

Most fans have blamed Coach Bo’s system for UP’s struggles this season, which is rather ironic because it was Coach Bo’s system which got them to the Finals last year. Last season, they ran action similar to that of the Houston Rockets. They utilized Juan Gomez de Liano’s isolation wizardry and used a lot of high ball screens to create offensive flow. It sounds simple on paper but it required plenty of trust and familiarity with one another. To their credit, it worked then. But today, they actually haven’t been running those same actions.

Juan GDL has taken a backseat this season as most of UP’s action has tried to cater to the deep talent pool of the Fighting Maroons. We see less high ball screens for UP and we’ve been witness to more drive and kicks off the bounce. It hasn’t always looked pretty for UP, as evidenced by their struggles to score (second to the last in the league in terms of PPG). But there is a reason for why Coach Bo even implemented this type of system; because he has to be able to spread the ball around his talented team. There’s nothing wrong about that.

It takes familiarity for that to happen and there will be bumps. This entire first round for UP was a bumpy ride for them with their less than stellar wins and disappointing losses. But the UAAP isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon, where years of games have proven that adjustment is king in winning championships. Just ask the Season 77 NU Bulldogs, or even the Season 76 De La Salle Green Archers. 

This first round isn’t the end of the world for UP. There is more to come and plenty to be excited about, which a lot of people have pointed out. But losing Coach Bo to suspension makes it hard to be extremely excited. It’s another bump on this road UP hopes will end in a championship. At this point, any additional bump will just add more frustration to an already volatile fan base. 

So far, this suspension is the biggest test the Fighting Maroons have faced this season. In a time where renewal and a chance to improve is preached upon, you lose your coach. We can argue about his system or his Xs and Os, but you can’t deny his effect on this team. He was their rock the entire time last season. When their hearts were broken versus Ateneo, Coach Bo told them to keep their heads up for the sake of their community. He is a terrific motivator, that you can’t deny. Now they lose him on the basketball court and dugout for three straight games. 

However, no matter what we say, it’s the players who will make the decisions on the basketball court. A coach’s guidance can only do so much if the players don’t execute. If these last seven games are any indication, UP’s players are ridiculously talented. Probably the most talented team in college basketball. But their execution and cohesion as a team has been sub-par at best. It can be better. Not “one-point win better”, but “convincing win showing they are a championship contender better.” 

Utak at Puso. It’s what UP has proudly waved ever since. Their puso will be tested as their coach takes a backseat to start the second round. They’re going to need to respond, because their utak will need every bit of it.