Breaking down UP's win over La Salle

La Salle’s Julian Sargent (8) drives through UP’s Cheick Mohamed Kone (13) and Joseph Gallarza during their UAAP clash at the Big Dome. |  (The STAR/Joey Mondeoza Jr.)

MANILA, Philippines - It has only been three playing days thus far in the UAAP men's basketball tournament, but the UP Fighting Maroons are already looking not only like contenders for a Final Four slot but also like heir to the NU Bulldogs as the feel-good story of the season.
 
The Fighting Maroons defeated the Green Archers, 71-66, holding off the favored team for much of the game with their inside and outside attack.
 
Let's break down the game for both sides:
 
UP was very active on both ends of the floor.

They played with a lot of energy while La Salle looked flat and lacking in fire (except when Thomas Torres hit a triple and got a defensive stop, but that was it). Torres, who has had consecutive subpar games, got blocked in return and chewed up on defense. What they did show was a lot of frustration and that was evident in the faces of Jason Perkins and Jeron Teng. 
 
Where do the Maroons get that energy? Aside from looking really fit and superbly conditioned, you might want to look at this crucial piece of information.
 
In UP's two matches thus far, only Paul Desiderio played more than 25 minutes. And that was in the first match against UE. Everyone else's minutes have been rationed properly. Rensy Baajar shuffles his men in a balanced attack so they are fresh for their frenetic style of defense. It allows them to be active on both ends of the floor. 
 
La Salle has had five players logging more than 25 minutes per game in each of their two matches. Perhaps they are relying too much on a few players while not giving the bench an opportunity. I thought that Larry Muyang could give UP problems inside but he wasn't sent back in after the first period (he finished with three points, two rebounds, and one turnover). Abu Tratter played only 14 minutes. 
 
The Fighting Maroons created a lot of mismatches.
 
I thought that La Salle was reacting to what UP was doing instead of taking the lead. When the referees called all sorts of fouls on UP's Cheick Kone (shame on you Nestor Sambrano), people thought that UP was done with its thin frontline corps. But Andrew Harris gave a good account of himself.
 
Paul Desiderio posted up Thomas Torres. After he made a couple of shots, they sent Abu Tratter over to double but the ball was swung out where some of the gunners like Jett Manuel and Pio Longa made huge shots. Later on they sent the bigger Jeron Teng over but because of UP's plethora of shooters, it wreaked havoc on La Salle's defense.
When Gelo Vito hit his first three-point attempt, it all the more caused La Salle problems.
 
I am surprised DLSU didn't mark Longa. I am sure they saw him during the summer? They could have asked Andrei Caracut whose San Beda Red Cubs were torched repeatedly by Longa, Jan Jaboneta and company in the NBTC Finals (they lost in a blowout to the Magis Eagles). And their coaching staff invited Longa's high school teammate from Ateneo de Cebu, Josh Sinclair, to train with them very recently. They could have asked the skinny on Longa.
 
Jett Manuel did his best Jeff Chan impression.
 
They are deadringers for one another in style and looks. And Manuel, always a high energy player, led UP with 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists (plus 1 steal). He used to shoot mostly from the outside but he has shown a willingness to go inside now. And that has made the difference. 
 
As for the Green Archers, maybe they would like to establish that post game with Tratter or even Muyang. Maybe Jayboy Gob can be given a chance.
 
Having said that, they really missed that post presence that created space and made their dribble drive so effective two seasons ago. They played small ball but that is UP's game (and has been for the past two or three years). La Salle is lucky to have survived NU's furious rally and were it not for that controversial call against Alfred Aroga they might have lost on opening day.
 
They need to get Thomas Torres untracked too. He might have scored eight points in the match but he was outplayed by his opposing numbers.
 
Here's the conundrum:
 
For the second straight game, UP was outrebounded: 54-47 versus UE; 50-37 versus La Salle.
UP took fewer field goals than their opponent for the second straight game: 68-57 against UE; 66-63 against La Salle.
 
One difference is UP is making better decisions with the ball as opposed to season past. They are shooting better instead of jacking up a lot of shots. 
 
UP almost crumbled once more (Henry Asilum and Andrew Harris who could have also been the goats finished the game off quite well) but they held fast in the endgame. These two wins are going to make them a much tougher team in the long run because not only is their confidence soaring but they are learning NOT to panic and to find solutions. 
 
The net effect? For the first time in ages, the team from the western end of Katipunan Avenue is atop the standings and is 2-0 for the first time since 2005. 

 

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