UAAP Basketball

Spotlight on traditional, new powerhouses in historic UP-La Salle showdown 

Philip Matel

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Spotlight on traditional, new powerhouses in historic UP-La Salle showdown 

FACE-OFF. Young stalwarts Francis Lopez of UP and La Salle's Mike Phillips in UAAP men's basketball action.

UAAP SEAOSN 86 MEDIA TEAM

The UP Fighting Maroons, former league doormats who turned into consistent title contenders, fight for the UAAP championship for the first time against the La Salle Green Archers, a squad with a rich winning tradition but hasn’t reached the last dance since 2017

MANILA, Philippines – A new finals matchup unfolds when the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball championship series tips off. 

The UP Fighting Maroons and the La Salle Green Archers clash for the first time in a best-of-three title duel starting on Wednesday, November 29, 6 pm, at the Mall of Asia Arena. 

Here’s a look at the historic showdown:

Old vs new powerhouses

Top-seeded UP, which had made the championship series in three of the past four seasons, square off against De La Salle, a traditional powerhouse yet the squad hasn’t reached the last dance since 2017.

Both UP and La Salle split their meetings in the elimination round – with the Maroons prevailing in the first round, 67-64, while the Green Archers exacted revenge in the second, 88-79.

The Maroons used to be league doormats but turned into consistent title contenders in recent years after a beefed-up sports program marked by a strong recruitment.

While UP has won only two crowns, La Salle has already won nine titles and consistently contended even as the league’s youngest member, joining only in 1986.

But their winning tradition hit a rough patch, struggling in recent years until coach Topex Robinson came on board this season to steer the Archers back to a familiar playground.

MVP spotlight

Kevin Quiambao, who recorded two triple-doubles this season, is the presumptive Most Valuable Player, posting averages of 16.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.9 steals.

He is on track to becoming the first local MVP since Kiefer Ravena in 2015, and the first La Sallian since Ben Mbala in 2016.

Quiambao succeeds last year’s MVP in Malick Diouf, who paced UP to a finals appearance after norming 10.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.5 steals in the eliminations.

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Frontcourt dominance

The Maroons boast a formidable frontline in Malick Diouf and Francis Lopez.

Diouf was even better a year after his MVP season – statistics-wise, at least – putting up 12.1 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 1.3 apg, and 1.1 spg, 

Lopez, a transferee from Ateneo, also consistently impressed with averages of 9.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.9 apg, and 1.3 spg.

According to UP Office for Athletics and Sports Development director Bo Perasol, who himself coached the team from 2016 to 2021, the onus is on La Salle on how to contain the tandem.

“The most telling factor will be rebounding,” Perasol told Rappler.

“UP will have a better chance of winning if it can control the rebounds which will convert into the number of possessions,” he added.

The Maroons lead the league in rebounding at 48.2 per game, just a shade above La Salle’s 47.5.

Controlling the pace

Former La Salle star Don Allado, who has also seen both teams from the other side as an assistant coach of the UE Red Warriors, said the Archers must be able to stifle UP’s running attack, which is far and wide the best in the league.

“If [La Salle] can limit UP’s strengths, then it will be much better for [the Archers],” said Allado, a two-time UAAP MVP.

“[UP’s] running game, their pick-and-roll needs to be limited.”

The Maroons are the leagues’ deadliest team on the fastbreak, averaging 15.9 ppg through the semifinals, while La Salle is a far second at 12.9 ppg.

Containing outside shooting

La Salle comes in as the league’s most accurate three-point shooting team at 31.8%, while UP is sixth at 27.1%.

“UP’s defense must minimize La Salle’s outside shooting,” said Perasol.

“La Salle’s ability to shoot it from outside is the reason why they are best in offense,” he continued.

Conversely, UP enters the finals with the best three-point defense as it only allowed opponents to shoot 25.8% in 15 matchups through the semis.

During their first round showdown last October 18, La Salle shot 6-of-31 from three, while UP put in 6/-of-4.

In their second round face-off, La Salle made 10-of-25 from rainbow country, while UP only connected on 4-of-23.

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Playing the mental game

Former UAAP champion coach Aldin Ayo also noted crucial points in the matchup.

Ayo coached La Salle to its last title in 2016 before transferring to the UST Growling Tigers a year later, where he then mentored CJ Cansino and Mark Nonoy.

The duo formed an explosive backcourt tandem to lead the Tigers to the UAAP Season 82 finals in 2019 before leaving the squad, with Cansino now the captain of UP and Nonoy a dynamic point guard for La Salle.

“What will be crucial will be the decision-making during the game especially during crunch time,” said Ayo.

The Converge FiberXers coach pointed out that both teams are talented, have a system that works, and motivated to win, so it all boils down to how both squads handle pressure in late-game situations.

“It will depend on the maturity of the players, and I think it’s been six years since La Salle’s last finals appearance, they are hungrier against UP which is always in the finals,” said Ayo.

As Cansino holds the edge of being in the championship series more, he said Nonoy must be on the top of his game when it comes to making the right play.

“Knowing Mark, he’s just going to be unconscious [on offense]… he always plays like that,” said Ayo.

“Hopefully, he makes good decisions because that’s always been his problem,” he added.

“But, right now, coach Topex has been doing a good job handling him and he has been responding.”

The coaching tale

UP mentor Goldwin Monteverde has always been a winner wherever he goes since he started coaching in the early 1990s.

He has succeeded in both the high school and collegiate level, winning championships along the way, the most recent the UAAP Season 84 title which ended the Maroons’ 36-year title drought.

On the other side, Robinson, who made his mark in the PBA as a keen defensive specialist, had coached several programs to the championship series — but never won.

Robinson steered both the San Sebastian Stags and the Lyceum Pirates to the NCAA finals but fell short against the San Beda Red Lions.

After the NCAA, Robinson went on to coach Phoenix Super LPG in the PBA, where the team went as far as the semifinals.

He has a chance to be the first La Salle rookie head coach since Ayo to win a title for the Taft-based school. — Rappler.com

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