Topsy-turvy UAAP!

The temptation was too hard to resist. In a recent reunion with a few fraternity brothers from the Upsilon Sigma Phi, knowing that I have been writing about the UAAP, brod advertising whiz Tong Puno asked if I was game to watch the UP-Ateneo game, in a rematch of last year’s finals. Without hesitation,

I immediately said, of course! After all, the last time I watched a UAAP game live was a pre-Covid lifetime away when Ateneo, with its well-oiled roster of the Nieto brothers, Thirdy Ravena, Ange Kouame with Coach Tab Baldwin wielding his magical coaching baton, always had the better of its archrival DLSU and pretty much the other teams, and when UP was still very much a work-in-progress under Coach Bo Perasol. There was then no Carl Tamayo, no Malick Diouf, no Zavier Lucero, no James Spencer, no UAAP 84 hero JD Cagulangan, and more decisively, no Coach Gold Monteverde to weave the Maroons into a top-notch fighting machine.

Well, I did watch live with my brods, and to be true to my dual school loyalties, wearing a blue Ateneo jacket over a UP Maroons championship shirt. And here I am now cranking out this week’s column on a late Sunday night, tired and exhausted but with the adrenaline rush still high after witnessing a topsy-turvy thrilling encounter between the protagonists of UAAP 84 battle it once more on the hard court. The cacophony of the incessant banging of drums, cheers, shrieks, oohs, and aahs of screaming fanatical diehards thundering non-stop drowned out for the moment my tinnitus. The colors of Blue and Maroon were scattered all over the Arena and it was an inevitability that you would bump into old school friends again. I had forgotten how exciting it is to be actually present in a UAAP game and I don’t regret a single minute of it notwithstanding my continuing anxiety that Covid is still very much lurking in the air.

In this regard, I must credit the Arena’s policy of vigilantly checking vax cards as you enter and the constant policing by security personnel to prod the people to wear their masks.

The game was true to my expectations. It was a match marked with a tight defense on both sides as the main feature. The offense suffered consequently, particularly for Ateneo which ended the first quarter with its lowest-ever scoring output of only 14 points this season. With very much a so-so second unit, and a passable first five of Kouame, BJ Andrade, Forthsky Padrigao, Kai Ballungay, and Dave Ildefonso, Ateneo tonight proved once more to be quite tentative on the offense. It was a pain to watch. Their shooting was awful, missing several under-goal shots. Second-year players like Joshua Lazaro, Chris Koon, and Gab Gomez haven’t stepped up at all so far while rookie guards Garcia and Quitevis looked lost under the glare of lights as they mishandled the ball during the few playing minutes Coach Tab gave them. Back-up center Geo Chiu on whom Coach Tab has pinned high hopes for a key role this year after suiting up for Gilas has been far from impressive. Sorry, but to put it bluntly, a disappointment. Although now playing more minutes, his offense continues to be terrible. On defense, he was constantly pushed around by the Maroons’ backup big man Henry Galinato. Unfortunately, tonight because of early foul troubles and a tight UP defense on him, main man Kouame wasn’t quite up to par. He scored only 10 points missing tons of up-close under-goal shots reminiscent of last year’s Finals. The bright light for the Eagles was Ildefonso who lighted up the scoreboards during the second and third quarters enabling Ateneo to take slim leads leading to the payoff in 4th quarter. But it was Padrigao who woke up from his slumber to hit a magical three-pointer in the dying seconds to send the game into overtime.

For the Maroons, the second half was again Tamayo-time as he took over the game with his usual confident MVP-like plays, particularly during the extra period ending with a team-high of 20 points, mostly scored during the crucial endgame, and 13 rebounds with able support admirably provided by Spencer and Diouf to carry the Maroons over the finish line at 76-71.

Can’t end this article without admitting that my earlier call is apparently flawed. I did not expect at all the NU Bulldogs’ league-leading performance which now stands together with UP at 4-1 with ADMU, DLSU, and another surprise, UE, at 3-2. The UAAP indeed is wonderfully, excitingly, fascinatingly topsy-turvy!
Until next week… OBF!


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