MANILA, Philippines – UAAP Season 82 reaches its crucial stage as the race to the Final Four tightens in the second round of eliminations. (GAME SCHEDULE: UAAP Season 82 Men’s Basketball)
While defending champion Ateneo continues to live up to expectations, the rest of the field pulled off surprises – from thrilling one-point wins to inexplicable meltdowns – making it an unpredictable final stretch. (UAAP Season 82: Team standings, scores)
As everyone braces for an even more intense second round, check out some things each team would like to work on.
Ateneo: No championship talk
Ateneo accomplished its mission of sweeping the first round for the top spot but it was a product of a lot of discipline, as two-time UAAP champion tactician Tab Baldwin constantly reminds the Blue Eagles not to get caught up in the "championship talk."
"We don’t really pause to talk about what we’re proud of. We have a lot to work on. So we really try to stay focused forward, not backward," said Baldwin.
"I think the way you enjoy your season is to win the championship and then it’s all behind you. So you don’t have any option other than to look back."
"Right now we have a lot of basketball ahead of us in a short period of time so we don’t have the luxury to take a breath and you know, talk about any accomplishments," he added. "In our eyes, there aren’t any accomplishments yet cause there’s another game and that’s the one that counts."
Sticking out among the their victories, though, is the 71-70 escape from the UST Growling Tigers that set off an alarm for the Blue Eagles to work harder.
And as expected, Ateneo bounced back with dominance as the Blue Eagles posted an average winning margin of 20 points in the next 4 games.
But the former San Beda forward showed that aside from the intangbles, he can also put up the numbers, like his 14-point, 6-rebound output and a +26 rating in their blowout win over Season 81 runner-up University of the Philippines (UP).
"I wasn’t doing anything special, though. I was just trying to focus on the task at hand like I just follow the instructions of the coaches," said Navarro, who's proving to be among the players to watch in the next round.
UP: 'Struggling' No. 2 seed
UP may have gotten a lot of backlash for being "overhyped" at the start of the season, but the Fighting Maroons have proven otherwise by claiming the solo No. 2 spot at the end of the first round.
However, the opening round did not exactly end well for the Season 81 finalist as head coach Bo Perasol will miss the first 3 games of the second round to serve his suspension following an on-court outburst.
The Maroons hope to adjust quickly minus Perasol because as Bright Akhuetie said, the team felt it lost a guiding voice when Perasol got ejected in their blowout loss to Ateneo. (Perasol on game ban: 'We need to rise above this adversity')
"We really struggled and we’re still struggling through a whole lot of things, [but] I’m sure we’ll be better in the next round," said Akhuetie.
UST: More than youth
Aldin Ayo's University of Santo Tomas (UST) squad surprised the competition as the Growling Tigers wound up holding the solo 3rd spot thanks to leading MVP candidate Soulemane Chabi Yo and sensational rookies Rhenz Abando and Mark Nonoy.
Chabi Yo introduced himself to the UAAP as he capped off the first round with a double-double average of 19.86 points and 15.29 rebound to lead the MVP race over Ateneo's Angelo Kouame, who bagged last season's Rookie of the Year plum.
Together with the hustle of rookies Abando and Nonoy, the Growling Tigers – who placed 6th last year – had a blitzing start to the season and even gave Ateneo a scare.
But losing two of its last 3 games of the season revealed the "rookie mistakes" that Ayo had predicted would happen this season.
The 2016 UAAP champion coach, though, continues to trust his young team.
"‘Yung tiwala namin sa players, hindi mawawala iyon. More so nga mas madagdagan pa iyan kasi naglaro nang maayos ‘yung mga players this first round," said Ayo.
"Siyempre the confidence will always be there, but they have to learn from their mistakes."
(I'll never lose trust in my players. I actually trust them even more because they played well in the first round. Of course the confidence will always be there, but they have to learn from their mistakes.)
Adamson, La Salle, FEU: Working on inconsistencies
After inconsistent performances in the first round, Adamson, La Salle and Far Eastern University wound up in a three-way logjam at the 4th spot with 3-4 slates.
The Soaring Falcons, led my Fil-Peruvian one-and-done player Val Chauca and Jerrick Ahanmisi, couldn't find their groove yet and a loss to FEU did not help their bid to strengthen their hold of the top 4.
Ahanmisi hopes the Falcons, who reached the semifinals last season, live up to their strong preseason forecast.
"You guys should expect us to be a different team," said Ahanmisi. "Even if I say it, it’s up to the team to actually go out on the court and do that. We can always say like we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that but it all comes down to us playing on the court."
La Salle also had a jittery start to the season, but head coach Gian Nazario admitted that the team focused on working on their chemistry, which eventually resulted in a positive result against UST in the last game of the first round.
"[Our] mantra the whole first round was to stick together. We shouldn’t be worrying about who we’re playing, but we should be worrying about ourselves, how we can get better everyday and that’s gonna be our attitude also heading into the second round," said Nazario.
Before FEU capped off the first round with a win over Adamson, the Tamaraws suffered a major blow with an embarrassing loss to cellar-dweller National University.
"After shooting a dismal 19% [against NU], it was initially a mental struggle for the players, but they just focused on what they needed to do, so when the shots started to fall in, they were able to build up their confidence," recalled FEU consultant Nash Racela.
FEU rookie Xyrus Torres felt that the way the Tamaraws stepped on the gas and bounced back quickly should be something they carry in the second round.
"Kailangan di kami mag-relax (We shouldn't relax)," said Torres.
UE, NU: Breaking barriers
Mired at the bottom of the standings, University of the East (2-5) and National University (1-6) couldn't turn their campaign around late in the first round.
Despite the dismal results, both teams came in close to securing victories over higher-ranked teams. The NU Bulldogs even had a heartbreaking start to the season where they lost by only one point or in overtime in their first 4 games.
Nevertheless, NU head coach Jamike Jarin said the Bulldogs are pumped up for a surprsie comeback in the second round.
"Of course as the head coach you should prepare these men for battle and we weren’t able to sustain the intensity, especially on defense in the FEU game. We need to recover fast because first round is done so we got the second round coming in," said Jarin.
The Red Warriors, on the other hand, had an inspiring talk from Paul Lee after their win over NU to help them keep pushing through the second round.
Team captain Philip Manalang also left a reminder for the team to not settle for one or two wins because the next round is more crucial.
"Wag muna mag-celebrate, be humble lang. Wag kami masanay sa isang panalo, dalawang panalo mag-celebrate. Sana 'yung winning attitude pumasok na [kasi] malayo pa eh, may second round pa. What if gumanda din standing namin? Hindi namin masabi kasi dikit-dikit sa ilalim," said Manalang.
(We shouldn't celebrate and just be humble. We shouldn't get used to celebrating one or two wins. I just hope the winning attitude will come soon because we have a long way to go and there's still a second round to play. What if our standing becomes better? We can't say because it's a tight race at the bottom.)
The second round kicks off on Saturday, October 5 at the Mall of Asia Arena where UE faces Adamson at 2 pm, followed by the heated Ateneo-UST rematch at 4 pm. – Rappler.com
More commonly known as “Bee”, Beatrice is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Phillippine sports governance, national teams, football and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.