Looking at the UP Fighting Maroons' UAAP season
The UP Fighting Maroons' UAAP Season 82 campaign ended when they lost 65-68 to the UST Growling Tigers.
Philstar.com/Erwin Cagadas
Looking at the UP Fighting Maroons' UAAP season
Rick Olivares (Philstar.com) - November 14, 2019 - 2:42pm

MANILA, Philippines — This is a painful loss for the University of the Philippines in the semifinals of the UAAP Season 82 men’s basketball tournament following a 68-65 loss to streaking University of Santo Tomas. 

It is an understatement for sure. This was the season where the Maroons thought they could finally bring that oh-so-elusive trophy back to Diliman as they paraded a star-studded lineup and had made significant inroads in their program and their progress. 

They managed some huge recruiting coups in bringing over transferees Bright Akhuetie, Jun Manzo, Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras. They were able to recruit Paul Desiderio and the Gomez de Liaño brothers. 

All these moves galvanized the team and vaulted them out of the cellar. 

Every year since Bo Perasol took over four years ago, they have bettered their position. 

From 5-9 to 6-8 to 8-6 and a finals berth to this year’s 9-5 record and the second seed overall and a semifinals finish.

Yes, it was not the ending they envisioned, as this was the last ride with Jun Manzo, Jayvee Mantilla, Jerson Prado, Pio Longa, JD Tungcab and Janjan Jaboneta — all tough losses in terms of manpower. 

But that window is still open for next year in the last go-around for Akhuetie, Rivero and Javi Gomez de Liaño.

I think that people unfairly call for Bo Perasol’s head. 

Some might say that he runs too much of a pro-style offense. Everyone might have their opinion on that on whether it is right for his team or not. 

I have heard others say that the team that went to the finals last year wasn’t nowhere as good as this current one. True. 

But I thought that this team had an up and down year and never fully gelled for various reasons. More to this later.

At the end of the day, this is the best stretch by any Maroons team since the mid-1980s.

People have to remember that it took Norman Black four years before he won his first title with Ateneo. It took Eric Altamirano four years as well to win it all with National University. 

These next couple of years are tricky for their team. They need to be able to bring in new blood to replace those who have graduated and those who will be leaving in a year or two. They need continuity or the gains will be wasted.

So, what happened?

I thought that a confluence of events didn’t help them at all. 

This is something I mentioned earlier on why I think they never fully gelled. 

During the summer, it was Bright, Ricci and Javi who carried the team along with James Spencer and David Murrell, who both improved. Juan was injured while Kobe was unavailable.

When they went abroad, Kobe returned to the lineup while Juan was in and out. In fact, it was during the UAAP tournament where they more or less fielded a complete lineup.

I know that not everyone bought into their roles. Maybe some will say that is on the coach, but when you don’t have your lineup for a while it will hurt. 

It isn’t an excuse as injuries are part of the game. And yet, injuries, the unavailability of players and late additions to the team such as Mantilla — at the end of it all, they never fully gelled. 

Some players who played long minutes before the return of the stars were suddenly on the bench.

As such, I think they never fully hit their stride. They were a middle of the pack team on both defense and offense. And when you’re right in the middle that’s a 50-50 chance. 

Early in the season, they were lucky enough to win close games. 

But not all those games — they won. The opposing team botched what was a win. 

It was like Ateneo during Kiefer Ravena’s last year where they were winning games in the final possession in the first round, but their luck ran out towards the end. As we postulated — 50-50.

I have seen some point to that last foul of Jun Manzo as having turned the tide. Maybe. Maybe not. 

Yes, Manzo unwittingly or not used up his last foul when Akhuetie was battling pain in his leg with 2:33 to play and UP in the lead, 63-59. And in the very next possession, a hobbled Noah Webb, gamely stood up to try and help his team, but his foul — he didn’t go after the ball but Mark Nonoy — elicited an unsportsmanlike foul. Nonoy hit two free throws to cut the deficit into half, 2:16 left.

But Kobe scored on the next possession to restore the four-point lead with 1:49 to play. This is where it turned to my thinking. 

Nonoy took a poor 3-point attempt and UP had the ball. Then Rivero missed a layup. I wonder why this season he has been doing these scoop shots that look like highlight shots. He missed this layup where he was too deep and he couldn’t muster the pectus to get that ball to angle in. Then this time, Rhenz Abando drove in for a lay-up.

Then Rivero was called for a five-second violation.

A note on these turnovers. UP was second in the league in the most errors with 268; UST had 272, but the Growling Tigers didn’t give up too many turnover points.

Still UST could not score as Soulemane Chabi Yo missed what should have been a gimme. Then UP missed two shots and then committed a 24-second shot clock violation. There were 32 seconds left and they had a two-point lead, 65-63, when that occurred. 

Abando missed his three-ball as Murrell swatted the shot. But this was where I was surprised. During a switch, Akhuetie found himself alone with Renzo Subido. 

This was where I was surprised. When Subido goes back out and the shot clock is winding down, he is going to shoot. And he did for a 66-65 lead. 

Then UP had four more attempts to either forge ahead or send the game into overtime but they missed all of them.

As we said earlier, all season long, UP was able to wriggle out of late games. Keep the game close, and UP had a chance. But sadly, not this time.

Maybe the coaches weren’t able to get the most out of that team. But introducing two huge stars in the mold of Paras and Rivero doesn’t happen overnight (we have seen a star-studded National University team struggle as well). It does take time. 

It is a painful loss and not the end they envisioned. So it is still good. I think from “nowhere to go but UP” they should now, “Rise UP.” And I think that Perasol deserves another shot at this. I think he earned it. 

The trick now is to heal, plan and get ready for next year.

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