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5 talking points from the UAAP opening weekend

MANILA, Philippines — Now that was some opening weekend for the UAAP’s 80th season with basketball tipping off all sporting events. I’ll dare say that the sense of anticipation is unlike any other sporting league in the country. 
 
The opening day — Saturday the 9th of September was characterized by blowouts while the second day, Sunday, saw more exciting matches although the FEU-LA Salle game only became interesting late in the game (unless you were looking for something other than basketball to erupt).
 
Here are five talking points from the games.
 
That was a statement win by La Salle
 
No matter if La Salle’s huge 23-point lead was cut to about five late in the game, it is still a statement win by the defending champions. For one, they didn’t have Ben Mbala, who is tearing up the AfriCup with his exploits. You know that FEU will not have another chance to upend La Salle.
 
That game in Davao? FEU might have been leading by 16 when the game was stopped, but that score doesn’t mean anything. What meant more was La Salle coming out on top of that fight. I felt that FEU backed down; something they have not done before. I am not suggesting they go out and pick a fight but they backed down. And that fed DLSU who seemed to be more ready for this game. 
 
Looking at the game yesterday, I thought FEU backed down for much of the game. Aljun Melecio and Prince Rivero were giving dagger looks and offering choice words but nothing until Ron Dennison got going. The Tamaraws got back in the game late but they ran out of time as well. That was their shot to take one from La Salle and they botched it.
 
Wonder why people are wondering who will replace Jeron Teng as their scorer after Big Ben? Wasn’t it obvious last year that it was Melecio? The kid has been electric since he was in high school. Andrei Caracut’s supposed golden hands has nothing on him.
 
UST is going to rue its poor shooting
 
This too was their shot to get a win; something the Growling Tiger could build on. But they lost Jordan Sta. Ana to cramps, Steve Akomo to fouls, and couldn’t buy a bucket unless it’s Marvin Lee doing the shooting.
 
Last season, UST was second to the last in field goal shooting (36%) and hit 64% of their free throws (good for sixth in the league). 
 
Yesterday, they registered 39% field goal shooting and were an atrocious 15-29 from the stripe (52%). Had Jeepy Faundo made his free throws late in the game, it would have given UST a four-point lead and changed the complexion of the game. He flubbed both and Paul Desiderio won it for UP.
 
But you have to credit UST coach Boy Sablan when he drew that play for Zach Huang. Close to perfection but he missed. And so did Faundo (who also launched a last ditch attempt from three-point range) and that was the game right there.
 
The Tigers need to make better shots and hit their free throws if they want to win some games.
 
Ateneo flexed its muscles with its demolition of Adamson.
 
Still think they won’t catch anyone by surprise this year? Chibueze Ikeh surprised everyone (maybe except for those who keenly follow Ateneo) and even the Adamson coaching staff, who seemed to be unprepared for the graduating center’s solid and big game. While some may point to the absence of Falcons center Papi Sarr as a huge factor and it is at some point but prior to that game, Ateneo held a 2-1 edge over this particular Falcons team dating back to last year (including their battle in the Filoil summer tourney). The Blue Eagles won by an average of 7.5 points while the Falcons won by a whisker when Dawn Ochea hit a buzzer beater.
 
Despite the win, it is obvious that both Adamson and Ateneo weren’t at their best. Meron pa ipapakita.
 
The National University Bulldogs opened the Jamike Jarin era with a win.
 
As good as UE’s Alvin Pasaol is, he cannot win a game by his lonesome. He got some scoring help from Mark Maloles and Rey Acuno, which is good. But you need your other big guns (Clark Derige and Mark Olayon to get going).
 
The Bulldogs got some serious scoring sock from starters Reggie Morido, JJ Alejandro and Issa Gaye with Dave Yu coming off the bench ala Vinnie Johnson.
 
What makes this a good win for NU is how Matt Aquino played very well in his 18-plus minutes of action (9 points and 8 rebounds — five from the offensive glass — plus 2 blocks). I still cannot figure how NU lost Yosi Tansingco to Lyceum so it is good to see Aquino provide some inside game for NU. 
 
They did not play a typical Jarin game, which is pressing and hounding foes. It was there in moments but not sustained. They aren’t yet at the level of his previous teams in Ateneo and San Beda but they can get there. Maybe not this year though. 
 
Who is more clutch  Aljun Melecio or Paul Desiderio?
 
Melecio shot 9-22; good for 41 percent from the field while Desiderio wasn’t economical at 6-20 (30 percent). But when their respective teams needed that bucket both of them supplied it.
 
Melecio killed FEU’s comeback with some tough shots while Desiderio made good on his prediction to win it. 
 
Hard to say until both teams match up. Right now, let’s enjoy watching them and this new and exciting season of UAAP basketball. 
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