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UE Red Warriors on the warpath

AJ Bolando/File

When the final whistle blew on the University of the East Red Warriors’ 78-73 victory over University of Santo Tomas to forge a playoff for fourth spot in the Final Four of the 77th UAAP men’s basketball tournament, Chris Javier jumped on center Charles Mammie in celebration.

In was a stark contrast when the two nearly came to blows during the halftime break of what ended up as an 80-63 loss by UE at the hands of the Southwestern University Cobras in summer match last May 26 in Cebu.

Nearly four months after that dust up, the two were arm in arm in a bromance show of celebration. The Red Warriors, the hottest team in the UAAP Men’s tourney, finished the second round with a five-match win streak and a 6-1 record to go 9-5 and a chance to play in the Final Four.

Javier finished with eight points while Mammie ended up with a paltry seven as he only entered the game in the second half following a first half benching by head coach Derrick Pumaren for being late for the agreed call time.

It was UE’s backcourt trio of Bong Galanza, Dan Alberto and Roi Sumang who carried the team scoring-wise for a total of 42 points while Mammie supplied some rebounds and assists to go with plenty of intimidation in the lane (in spite of not recording a single block).

How did UE arrive at this position when they looked on the verge of flaming out for the second consecutive year?

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Finally getting what Derrick Pumaren has been preaching since summer

When Pumaren was named head coach less than 10 days before the start of the summer basketball leagues, he made it clear that the team will have a different philosophy when it comes to their game plan.

“I am a defensive coach,” he declared.

What defense you may ask after UE finished 3-4 in the first round. Yes, the Red Warriors were a middling pack. They forced the most turnovers with 24.9 and scored the highest turnover points with 18.9. That’s 18.9 points out of a possible minimum of 50 points.

The high-pressing full court-press harassed opposing teams and kept a UE team that didn’t have too many dependable weapons in the game. The problem was they got tired in the endgame.

Save for the blowout wins against Adamson and UP, they lost by a bucket to La Salle, in the final two minutes of play to FEU, and another pair of two-point losses to NU and Ateneo.

“We could have easily been 6-1,” lamented Pumaren after that crushing 93-91 loss to the Blue Eagles.

Well, they did go 6-1 in the second round.

From that middling pack on defense, UE has climbed the defensive charts in the second round.

They are second in points allowed (66.1 ppg), third in field goals allowed (36.8 ppg), tops in perimeter defense as opponents are only able to score 15.0 points per game. They remain the best in forcing turnovers with 24.4 per match.

“I’d say that were only up to 80-85 percent in our capacity as a defensive unit,” described Pumaren of his team’s capability after the UST win. “But there is a caveat there – we still give up a lot of free throws (a league worst 17.1 free throw points per match). Even with Charles’ presence, our opponents are still able to get to the basket a lot. So we have to look at improving our perimeter defense.”

Another thing that UE did was to ease off the gas pedal. In the first round, players simply got tired from the full-court pressure defense. Stepping off the accelerator for some stretches allowed the players to conserve themselves for the crucial fourth period where they had suffered many a meltdown.

All hands on deck

Let’s look at the individual scoring statistics of the Red Warriors.

Player

1st Round

2nd Round

Roi Sumang

14.1

12.5

Bong Galanza

11.3

12.5

Charles Mammie

8.3

10.8

Dan Alberto

6.7

7.4

Chris Javier

6.6

6.1

Paul Varilla

5.7

5.6

While the scoring has gone slightly down for Sumang, Javier and Varilla, others have picked up the slack by hiking their stats even every so slightly.

Their key players are able to get a few more minutes’ rest in time for the endgame as the bench has come up big. The bench has come up big with a league best 32.7 points per outing; over three more points than second place, FEU.

Giving Mammie more minutes

The center from Sierra Leone is playing slightly more minutes – 20.6 to the 18.6 minutes per game he got in the first round.

Charles Mammie

Points

Rebounds

Assists

Steals

Blocks

Turnovers

1st Round

8.3

8.1

0.4

0.6

0.9

3.6

By 2nd Round’s end

10.8

9.1

0.9

0.6

1.1

3.3

“Charles is starting to play better and with that swagger that he showed last year,” noted one longtime UAAP official who requested anonymity.

In the total rebounds category, leaders Jason Perkins, Karim Abdul and Alfred Aroga have less than a full point advantage in rebounds against Mammie. Except they play a lot more minutes than the second year UE center. How much more when Charles is into the game?

And despite playing two minutes more, Mammie’s fouls haven’t increased much – from 2.4 to 2.6.

“The big guy gives us a chance to win,” said Pumaren who immediately offered a caveat. “As long as he comes focused and without the other things that distract him whatever they are.”

“Last year, even with a better team, we didn’t get the job done,” said Mammie after the win against UST. The Season 76 Red Warriors, who handily defeated NU for the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup title, were favorites to barge into the Final Four and contend for the title. Instead they crashed and burned to a 7-7 record.

“We know we have a chance to go all the way,” added Charles. “Now, we just have to do the job one game at a time.”

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