NBA
UAAP Finals Preview: La Salle, UST rekindle rivalry
Pio Garcia, Unblogged Sports (The Philippine Star) - October 1, 2013 - 3:51pm

One team changed its head coach a week prior to opening day. A lot of people, including yours truly, perpetually, hung questions about this squad from Taft. They couldn’t seem to get their acts right under Gee Abanilla, so what hope is there for Gang Green under Juno Sauler?

UST was coming off a season where they were UAAP bridesmaids and hoisted the national championship. The question was, will they get over the hump once more? But the more problematic question was who will replace Jeric Fortuna. The former King Tiger was a point guard supreme in the UAAP. He was the best leader for this squad until Jeric Teng proved himself worthy of the mantle.

Roughly three months and 16 games later, the De La Salle University Green Archers and the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers are once more on a collision course for the UAAP men’s basketball diadem. Did we all think that the Finals would be out of color with the Blue Eagles missing the bus? Maybe not. With the onset of roster changes, different colors were bound to play in the Finals and here we are.

Funny, I’m not that old but I still remember the UST-DLSU title fights of yore. It was during my formative basketball age of five that I got to witness the Greens of Taft and the Yellows of Espana go at it like no tomorrow at the onset of the Fil-Am invasion in the UAAP. The last time they faced each other in the Finals of the most popular collegiate league, the Green Archers were bannered by the likes of Mike Cortez, Manny Ramos and Willy Wilson and were preceded by Don Carlos Allado and Mark Clemens Telan. UST was bannered by the skywalking Cyrus Baguio alongside one of the best UAAP bigs in Marvin Ortiguerra, Freddie Hubalde’s older son Derek and Nino Gelig.

You don’t know those guys? A pity. I’d say it was one of the best ages of UAAP basketball where players took wins on the court and not their board representatives trying to win their school games off of it. But I digress.

How will this new edition of an age-old UAAP rivalry play out in the Finals? Let’s check out what I think would be the most important factors in either team’s campaign.

Frontline

Forgive me for the very Marvel-y tagline on our first topic. For this Finals edition, the frontline of each team will once again dictate heavily how the game will be. UST has the most polished foreign student-athlete in the UAAP in Karim Abdul. But he does not have that much of a support when it comes to Paolo Pe’s offense which, at best, is luck of the draw. But after those two? We all got a preview of how UST’s lineup will look like if Abdul and Pe are rendered unserviceable due to fouls. That’s something DLSU will certainly pounce on with their plethora of able-bodied and talented bigs. Jason Perkins, Arnold Van Opstal  and Norbert Torres will punish UST, if Juno Sauler plays it right, in the middle when Pe and Abdul are out. DLSU has the best frontline in college basketball right now, also the deepest. They can even put a stretch four in Matt Salem to spread that floor for AVO to operate unmolested. It’s imperative for Abdul and Pe to stay out of trouble since, even if Aljon Mariano and Kevin Ferrer are able to slide down their spots, they aren’t true bigs in the definitions of the word.

Interes-TENG battle

Will siblings Jeric and Jeron Teng man each other up? That would be a doozy. Maybe come crunch time the brothers will be up in each other’s grill trying to stymie each other from getting that game-winner. However, it should be noted at this point that Jeric has the more rounded game compared to little bro. Not that I’m saying that little bro is not good. Heck, Jeron is the King Archer and in terms of talent, he may have the upper hand. But when it comes to experience and veteran tactics, Jeric is way ahead of him. See those jumpers? How about the lean-ins in traffic at the post? Or the solid man-to-man, in-your-grill defense? Yep, little bro still has a long way to go.

How do you guard Ferrer and Mariano?

This is Juno Sauler’s main problem aside from the paint assault of Abdul. How would you guard the best forward combo in the UAAP? Both can play up top against bigger opponents and down low if you put puny defenders on them. Both are match-up nightmares, and the question is does DLSU have the personnel for this? Who will Jeron take between Ferrer and Mariano, for you can’t say he’ll exclusively guard one? If Sauler puts Perkins to stymie Mariano’s assault, Aljon can just take Perkins off the deck for a drive and drop on Abdul if Torres or AVO helps or go all the way if they don’t challenge. Do you dare Ferrer to stroke that jumper or would you rather live with him slashing his way through while shutting down his options to pass?

Who will shoot the Sheriff?

Jon Sheriff has been on a tear lately. And guess what, he’s the new starting point guard for UST coach Pido Jarencio now and in the foreseeable future. Sheriff has been putting the cuffs on opposing PGs as he tries his best to disrupt the start of plays with his defense. On offense, he has been able to consistently find his teammates, most notably Karim Abdul, for easy, open deuces. Thomas Torres will have his hands full on Sheriff. How Jon Sheriff performs will be a big boost to UST’s #06in76 campaign.

VosoTRES or The Constructor Corps?

You have to take the good with the bad here. Vosotros can shoot the lights out when it is going in. However, when it is Omorogbe bad (Perps’ Nosa Omorogbe has a penchant for shooting two out of 20-something), that’s when it hurts. Gang Green should pray that VosoTRES comes to play and not Constructor Corps Vosotros who will build them a new condominium beside their campus with all his misses.

Coaching chores

Both are good coaches. Sauler has milked everything possible from his Green Archers. He got his sub-patterns and best combos laid down after his fourth game. And the way he worked AVO to how he is today? Just pure genius. Also, it’s trivial to note that UST has a jolly, celebrity look-alike coach who wisecracks for post-game comments while Sauler never cracked a smile. At all. He’s serious in his business of giving the Taft-based school its first championship since the JVee Casio-led DLSU squad broomed the 14-0 UE Red Warriors (ouch). For Pido, he knows how to keep his boys motivated. And think of it, the last time Coach (or Kots? Or Quotes?) Pido last hoisted the UAAP championship, he went through a twice-to-beat disadvantage and a last-second Game 1 loss. Will it be déjà vu for the Tigers? It just might be.

Final tally

I would’ve supported UST openly but then the Mikee Bartolome boycott happened and their refusal to release her papers. Never would I support DLSU (only happened once and never again) earnestly. But we can’t stay neutral. With the way the Tigers are playing right now, it’s like the extra games have been helping them stay in battle shape. Abdul is raring to grab the trophy along with Mariano and Teng in their last years. And who can forget Mark-este- Ed Daquioag? UST has the experience, the moxy, and the veteran smarts to outlast this young crew of Archers.

It will be a three-game bonanza for us all though.

Are you ready?

Send your letters of complaint, clarifications and protests to @PioVGarcia.

ABDUL ABDUL AND PE BEST FERRER AND MARIANO GANG GREEN GREEN ARCHERS JUNO SAULER UAAP UST
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