MANILA, Philippines – Seizing destiny is now or never for the UP Fighting Maroons.
Down 0-1 in the highly-anticipated UAAP Season 81 Finals, the Maroons now have the unenviable task of winning two straight games against their neighbors, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, if they want to break their 32-year title drought.
Against an Ateneo side boasting a complete championship-tested system, doing such a thing is nearly impossible.
There's the Blue Eagles squad dead set to wrap up the series for a second straight crown. Game 2 of the best-of-three title showdown is set at 3:30 pm on Wednesday, December 5, at the Araneta Coliseum.
And then there are also the numbers that aren’t on the side of the underdog Maroons as well.
There are reasons why a UP Math professor put his own team’s winning chances at 11.3%
Yes, UP is the best offensive team in the league with an average of 80.3 points per game, but Ateneo easily neutralizes that by only allowing a league-low 62.9 points against them. La Salle, the second-best defense, allows nearly 8 more points at 70.8.
Oh, and the Eagles are also the second-best offense at 79.4 points per game, making UP’s league-high offense look ordinary. This deadly combination of offense and defense showed in Game 1, where Ateneo transformed a 73-71 lead in the 4th quarter to an 88-79 win. UP fought tooth and nail, only to see the champions pull away at the last moment.
Looking across the board, there is just no category where Ateneo shows a glaring weakness. They are first in averaged rebounds (47.1) and blocks (5.6) while being second at field goal percentage (40.0%), assists (15.5), steals (6.3) and fewest turnovers (14.6).
But if there’s any person to throw stats, probabilities and expectations out of the window, that would be the league MVP.
Now, more than ever, would be a good time for Bright Akhuetie to really prove why he got the season’s highest individual award. While the rebounds have been consistently there for the Nigerian big man, the points have not. In 3 playoff games since being named the MVP, Akhuetie has only averaged 9.7 points on 42% shooting. For UP to even have a chance against the defending champs, Akhuetie will need to double up the dominance down low apart from drawing defenders off the team’s other scorers.
But even in the MVP department, Ateneo is not far behind with their runner-up rookie representative Ange Kouame.
The raw stats speak for themselves: the Ivorian tower is a two-way threat much like his own team. Controversial bumps aside, Kouame has neutralized Akhuetie in their previous battle despite being a non-factor on the offensive side. Don’t count on the kid to be ineffective two games in a row.
Unlike UP’s series against Adamson, the numbers just don’t show a fair fight for the Maroons. But at the end of the day, no team – be it the Ateneo Blue Eagles or the Golden State Warriors – is unbeatable.
“Bilog ang bola.” (The ball is round.) – Rappler.com