By Mikhail Franz Flores
On Saturday, the match between the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons and the University of the East (UE) Red Warriors will be a battle for the first: a first victory, that is.
And for the struggling Maroons, beating UE with fashion may be the perfect time to finally gain momentum halfway through the first round of UAAP Season 73.
Before the start of the season, the Maroons were considered a dark horse with 11 returning players led by Woody Co beefing up the team, the entry of rookie Mike Silungan, and a revitalized team fresh from a two-week training camp in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Expectations were high for a team that remained in the cellar for years. Some analysts even said that UP could be a strong contender for a Final Four slot this year. However, the team has not lived up to this pre-season prediction. Still winless in four outings, UP is tied with UE at the bottom of the standings.
In their last four games, the Maroons failed to gain the momentum that they needed to bolster their Final Four bid. If ever they did, they failed to sustain it.
Going up against the De La Salle Green Archers in the opener, UP was heavily favored to win against a young DLSU team. Both teams managed to maintain a close-fight game in the first half but UP’s fate was sealed when the Archers triggered a scoring run in the third quarter after UP’s defense started to collapse and their rotation went awry.
The heartbreaking overtime upset over the UST Growling Tigers was another case of momentum lost. Team captain Woody Co missed two crucial free throws that would have given UP a 71-68 lead. However, UST still managed to force to game into overtime after a Mike Silungan foul sent Jeric Teng to the line and split his charities. During the extra period, the Tigers sizzled from beyond-the arc to finish the game, 87-81.
Sustaining the momentum
In another game, when Martin Reyes scored back-to back triples and led UP to a scoring run that cut the FEU Tamaraws’ lead to eight, RR Garcia scored a three-pointer and Pipo Noundou scored a one-handed dunk off a steal to recover their double-digit lead. Again, UP seized the momentum but they failed to sustain it.
How, now, do they seize and sustain the momentum that they need to win?
First, Beat UE. Start getting it on Saturday. Beat UE and beat them hard. The Warriors lost their last four games by a margin of 12.25 points. Winning against UE in double-figures will gain them both the momentum and the morale that they need when UP faces its Katipunan neighbor Ateneo on Thursday. A victory over the Blue Eagles will further boost their drive for a winning skid when they wrap-up the first round against the National University Bulldogs.
Paint points in the paint. Most of the Maroons are shooters. Thus, UP loves shooting from beyond-the-arc but their three-point shooting are dismal. The team averages 23.58% in three-point field goals. The big men need to post up more inside the paint especially Magi Sison. He can create space inside and elude his defenders for an easy lay-up. Properly executing the game plays and deceiving the defense are the keys to paint more points in the paint.
Invest on defense. Once the lead starts to widen, UP’s defense starts to collapse. Terrence Romeo, the sharp-shooting rookie from FEU who scored 83 points in a juniors match for the Baby Tams, was able to show his shooting skills in the UP-FEU match when the Maroons’ defense plummeted down.
Surge and sustain it. When Martin Reyes fires back-to-back three-pointers or a similar event happens, the Maroons should also solidify their defense. RR Garcia managed to answer with a triple over a loose UP defense and Pipo Noundou deflected the ball off UP and finished with a dunk.