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Can Mapua recover from that jarring loss to JRU?

MANILA, Philippines -- Mapua’s loss to Jose Rizal University where they coughed up a 17-point lead with 4:37 left to play and lost the game in the final 30 seconds has to leave their team heavy with doubt about their Final Four aspirations.

The other week, in a show of might, they looked to blow out Lyceum of the Philippines University when they racked up a 40-point lead in the first half. The LPU Pirates scuttled that lead (aided and abetted by many many bad and questionable calls) that saw the lead whittled down to six before they arrested the skid.

Against JRU even without CJ Isit who will be out with a dislocated shoulder for three weeks and Josan Nimes who is nursing a hamstring injury, they had enough firepower to blow away JRU. And they sure looked like they would give the Heavy Bombers plenty of things to think about post-match.

JRU’s Abdel Poutouchi and Abdul Wahababdul couldn’t match up with the more athletic and spritely Allwell Oraeme.

Exie Biteng hit some shots. Then Stephen Que came in and drained a huge number of them. Andretti Stevens was playing some great basketball that true hoop analysts can appreciate (he makes excellent reads on the game and like Ateneo’s Ryan Buenafe before him passes the ball where a teammate should go to free himself and not where he is at the moment). That crosscourt zip pass through traffic isn’t something that most players cannot do.

I asked JRU head coach Vergel Meneses if during his time as a player for JRC (before the school attained university status) in the 1980s if he experienced a huge comeback by the Heavy Bombers. They sure did but the coach said not much since he made sure that they were almost never in a deep hole. Technically, 18 points isn’t like the 40-point lead Mapua spotted LPU with a week ago but in this match, JRU was dead in the water.

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They weren’t doing anything right. Teytey Teodoro was forcing up shots. Kim Aurin missed a wide open undergoal stab. Paolo Pontejos who used to be the Heavy Bombers’ scoring leader until he was demoted to the bench hasn’t really gotten used to that idea. He has fewer touches and has – as always – been in Meneses’ doghouse (the coach has a short lease on Pontejos). Gio Lasquety was having a tough time bringing up the ball against Darrell Menina.

They had nothing save for Jordan Dela Paz who kept fighting in there with a stick back and a drive or two.

With 33 seconds left, JRU head coach Vergel Meneses called for a timeout. But in a surprise move, he left his players on the court to talk amongst themselves.

Whatever was discussed worked as two seconds later, Biteng turned the ball over again.

Another timeout was called; Meneses left his players to talk for a moment then called them over.

Teodoro missed a three but Oraeme only converted on one free throw.

One might make a case for the back up point guards John Nieles and Darren Menina fouling out for the cause of Mapua’s troubles but that might not necessarily be true.

I wondered why the Cardinals stopped going to Oraeme who was close to being unstoppable inside. Why wasn’t the ball given to Que?

JRU began to play defense throwing Mapua a full-court press and that caught the Cardinals by surprised. Why that happened I do not know. This is JRU they are playing. Vergel Meneses is a disciple of Manong Derrick Pumaren whose teams like to play a hellacious form of full court defense. This isn’t the first time they sprung this trap. The blame too must be on the coaching staff for not being ready for this. I was watching them and they too were stunned, caught looking perhaps wondering what hit them again.

And for the first time this season, Biteng looked flustered as he committed four turnovers in the dying minutes of the game. Then Stevens was whistled for two fouls off three-point plays and he too turned the ball over.

Following Oraeme’s three-point play at the 4:37 mark to make it 79-62, Mapua scored only eight more points while surrendering 28 points!

JRU hit four treys and scored on three conventional three-point plays to win the game with Dave Sanchez hitting two crucial free throws for his side’s last two points.

Is this game the defining moment for JRU this season that climbed to 5-3 (that is much better than 4-4)? They avoided falling two straight after the loss to San Beda.

How about Mapua that saw their three-game win streak snapped? At 4-4, they are on the outside looking at a Final Four slot. Their four losses have come from the top tier squads – San Beda on opening day, Perpetual Help in their third game of the season, and Arellano University that is another team looking for its bearings this season at 4-3.

This is the fourth close shave they’ve had. And three of them ended in losses. There were the very close losses to Perpetual Help and Arellano University that were decided in the final minute of play. The endgame – a question for some schools like Emilio Aguinaldo College and Perpetual Help – is also a concern for the Cardinals coaching staff.

Watching them this season, I think they have good pre-game plans but the mid-game adjustments aren’t there.

“It is a painful loss,” said Mapua head coach Atoy Co post-match. “Muntik na last time (referring to the Lyceum match) tapos ngayon bumigay. I think we are better than this. Believe me we are.”

Somehow, I thought that he was trying to convince himself more than me.

Next up for the Cardinals? Letran.

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