MANILA, Philippines – The UP Fighting Maroons continue to trend upwards in their mission for back-to-back UAAP men’s basketball titles, a feat that would add a feeling of immortality to what’s already been a remarkable year for their university.
Following a resounding 91-70 victory over the Adamson Soaring Falcons – a team which in recent history has played them close – the defending champs find themselves in solo possession of first place in the league standings with an 8-1 record.
And given rival Ateneo’s loss to impressive NU (both 5-3) late Wednesday night, the gap for first place in the league standings is widening.
Their performance on the court legitimizes the claim that they are the current best bet to win this collegiate wars, although as the old saying goes, “anything can happen.”
But here are the recent results:
An emphatic first-round performance has been followed by consecutive statement triumphs for UP to open the second round, as they’ve collected wins to the detriment of National University and now Adamson.
The former was in a down-to-the-wire payback where they pulled away thanks once again to efficient late-game execution, a staple of this team’s personality.
The latter performance displayed their explosive potential to run away from an adversary for good.
Depth comes to mind first when describing UP’s strength, which is a microcosm for how the program is ran behind the scenes.
If the decision-makers of the Fighting Maroons take a collective approach to determining the future, then the players on the court also willingly spread the wealth towards achieving success.
The numbers back it up, as UP ranks in the upper half of assists in the UAAP. So does the eye test, as the ball moves around east to west before a shot is attempted.
The starting five of the Fighting Maroons is formidable enough to compete against any lineup in the league. And it’s justifiable to think that UP’s second unit would be one of the best five-man starting units as well.
The return of Cagulangan to action has only strengthened the unit with Zavier Lucero, Henry Galinato, Harold Alarcon, and Cyril Gonzales.
UP, which led by as many as 22 points, received 40 points from their bench against Adamson, whose relievers only scored 26.
The Fighting Maroons entered the game second in the UAAP in bench production at 32.75, a number that should only increase now that Cagulangan has returned.
Whether he remains with the relievers or elevates to the starting unit (and in turn send one of Fortea or Gerry Abadiano to the bench), State U’s collective attack will only grow more lethal.
Cagulangan’s return has given UP a calming force who can game manage and run plays to precision, but the time he spent recuperating from a hamstring injury also provided Fortea the platform to experiment with his role in this team and build confidence in his skill-set.
Galinato looks more comfortable in the system with each passing game. His combination of bulk, athleticism, and attitude give the Fighting Maroons a bulldozer in the paint who can change the outlook of a contest with physical force or some mental intimidation.
And of course there are the reliable safety nets of Carl Tamayo and Malick Diouf, two multi-talented players who impact the game in “basketball unicorn”-like ways.
Here’s an example: during a third-quarter score against Adamson, Diouf throw an overhead pass to Tamayo, who had used the smaller Abadiano’s back screen in cutting hard to the paint.
At his height, Diouf can see over players’ arms and deliver passes through tight windows from a taller state. He delivered one to Tamayo for the bucket.
It’s not so common yet that a UAAP team can boast of a center delivering a dime from the top of the key while the PF uses his point guard as a screener to dive to the rim. It’s a common theme, however, in modern basketball worldwide.
When it comes to progressive play-designing, Goldwin Monteverde’s staff, like Tab Baldwin’s, is ahead of the curve. You can also add Nash Racela’s FEU teams to the list, as well as Aldin Ayo’s squads.
“Sometimes we need to improve our decision-making,” Monteverde said after Wednesday’s win, particularly desiring an improvement on defense.
UP’s scoring defense is middle-of-the-pack, but their average margin of victory is now only 0.2 points back behind Ateneo (9.4 vs 9.2).
“Being consistent and not thinking about whatever standing we’re at now,” Monteverde said about what he hopes they’ll accomplish before the Final Four.
“What’s important is what to improve on towards the end of the season.”
If there’s still more room for this team to grow, the potential could be limitless. – Rappler.com