UAAP Basketball

UP Maroons winning with reliable clutch performances

Naveen Ganglani
UP Maroons winning with reliable clutch performances

ON A ROLL. Carl Tamayo and the UP Maroons look poised to sustain their hot run in the second round.

UAAP SEASON 84 MEDIA TEAM

Barring an epic collapse, this may be the most accomplished UP Fightings Maroons batch in the last three decades record-wise

MANILA, Philippines – The UP Fighting Maroons continued their winning ways by triumphing over the NU Bulldogs to open the second-round action in the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball tournament on Tuesday, April 12 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Historically, UP now has the opportunity to set a new precedent for their basketball program with wins in an elimination round in the UAAP Final Four era. Their all-time record of victories in the eliminations is nine, most recently accomplished in Season 82 (2019).

By beating the Bulldogs, the Maroons improved to a 7-1 record. Given how they’ve played under new head coach Goldwin Monteverde and that they have six games remaining before the Final Four, it seems like a safe bet that we will see the most accomplished State U basketball varsity team in the last three decades record-wise, barring an epic collapse.

According to UAAP statistician Pong Ducanes, State U’s seven-game winning streak is the longest the university has enjoyed since they started the computerized statistics for the league back in 2003.

Their latest win was secured with another impressive fourth-quarter performance by UP, which has marched to its stellar standing thanks in large part to superb clutch performances down the stretch of games – a great sign for any aspiring finals contender.

National University did not make it easy for them.

There’s a beauty to the way the Bulldogs play basketball that would make any collegiate hoops purist proud. Their defense is intense, especially when they press the living hell out of the opponent, and they share the ball on offense, mainly because any two or three guys can step up on any given day and lead what’s generally an undersized team to competitive showings.

Speaking of undersized brilliance, that kid Michael Malonzo is one fighter of a player to watch out for.

Jeff Napa has done a tremendous job developing his team, which has an underrated trait of shifting defensive principles on the fly in-game. NU ran different types of press, zone, man-to-man, and even switching against the Fighting Maroons, often confusing them with what was next. 

But it wasn’t enough to hold off a UP team that rode the hot start of their Rookie of the Year candidate and then executed effectively on both ends of the floor in the final minutes of the contest.

Carl Tamayo, NU’s former high school superstar, finished with 21 points on an effective 8-of-13 shooting while hauling down 10 rebounds, recording 3 steals, and finishing with a +15 when he was on the court. If not for his 3-of-8 shooting from the foul line, his statistics would look even better.

There are many parts to Tamayo’s game that make it so fun to watch him play. For starters, his ability to keep his pivot foot grounded while having insane explosion with his first step is very impressive, especially for a rookie. Some college players – heck, some professional players – go their entire careers without being able to develop that ability, or do so with the occasional traveling infraction.

Tamayo can deliver whatever’s needed by his team, which is another rare trait for a player who’s new to the senior division. He can work in the post, operate as a big ballhandler in pick-and-roll, drain jumpers either from midrange or downtown, and score at the rim. He’s also unselfish, doesn’t rush his decisions, and grabs critical rebounds.

He’s also a stout defender. Just ask Justine Baltazar.

The best part? Tamayo is only 20 years old and already a do-it-all phenom. It’s time to readjust our expectations for UP’s shining freshman, not just in terms of what he can do in the UAAP or local basketball scene, but by what else he can accomplish in the international stage.

That, however, is a conversation for another day.

Both Ricci Rivero and Zavier Lucero scored 16 points each while Joel Cagulangan recorded a season-high 8 assists, including 2 dimes in the fourth period which were delightful to watch. Add him to the list of former De La Salle Green Archers who have shone after leaving the green and white.

CJ Cansino, who’s enjoyed a fantastic comeback campaign in his first season as a Fighting Maroon, did not play on Tuesday due to a sprained finger on his right hand and a contusion on his left palm, according to program director Bo Perasol. While the injuries aren’t considered serious, rest and recovery will be required, and he’ll get plenty of it with the upcoming Holy Week break in action.

UP secured its recent wins by holding off Adamson late in the fourth quarter, completing a come-from-behind victory against La Salle, and outdueling FEU in the final minutes of their last contest. Tuesday’s game marked the second time in Season 84 that UP’s fourth-period performance propelled the Maroons to a win against a feisty Bulldogs side. 

Even in their lone loss this season against Ateneo on opening day, the Maroons outscored the defending champions by 8 in the final 10 minutes, drawing frustration out of Blue Eagles coach Tab Baldwin in the post-game press conference.

Just in the fourth quarters of their eight games, UP has outscored its opponents by 16 points. That already includes the -11 in the final period of their contest against UE, which at that point was a non-contest because the Maroons still won by a margin of 15. 

Of course, having to constantly rely on late-game rallies mean one of two things: UP built a lead and lost it, or they were unable to create separation from their opponents earlier in the contest, including those who might be inferior to them in terms of blue-chip talent.

“I thought we got out to a better start than we’ve been getting out thus far in the season,” Lucero said after the win against NU, where UP’s 15-point lead in the first half evaporated after a turnover-heavy third quarter. 

“Our mindset is to not be in a close game, but we keep finding ourselves here, so I’m hoping as we continue, we can keep that good start and keep in pushing, [and] not let them back in the game as the quarters go on.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially if winning a title is the goal.

At the very least, UP can find solace in that when the going gets tough in the tight stretches, they have the arsenal to exchange blows with anybody. Maybe even Ateneo? 

Well, getting within striking distance of the Blue Eagles is another conversation to begin with.

But with a versatile threat like Lucero, floor general like Cagulangan, developing superstar like Tamayo, all the depth they have, and the creativity of Monteverde, it’s hypothetically possible. 

Is UP’s late-game luck bound to run out, or are the trends here to stay?

Right now, it’s looking more like the latter. – Rappler.com

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