CAN University of the East sustain its winning run?
Coach Derrick Pumaren can only hope so.
The Red Warriors are looking to ride the momentum of their five-game winning streak, confident it would give them the much-needed momentum come Saturday when they tangle with the National University Bulldogs in their do-or-die encounter for the fourth and last spot in the UAAP Final Four.
Both teams ended the eliminations with similar 9-5 win-loss records, although the Warriors are going to the 4 p.m. encounter at the Smart Araneta Coliseum having won their last five matches.
Pumaren said his team’s strong second round finish had a lot to do with the players’ ability to adapt to the system he has installed in his first season as UE head coach.
“I think we’re playing better now compared to the first round and I think the boys have adjusted already so that what we’re doing has become second nature to them,” said Pumaren, who had to take an LRT ride with younger brother and assistant coach Dindo Pumaren on the way to the Warriors’ Recto campus due to the knee-deep flood that inundated Metro Manila on Friday.
The veteran mentor only came on board last April after succeeding Boycie Zamar, but has managed to bring in the defensive mindset he envisioned UE to have.
Anchoring the team’s defense against NU is Sierra Leonese big man Charles Mammie, who is averaging 10.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.0 block this season.
“Charles is our last line of defense,” said Pumaren in describing the 6-foot-8 slotman, whom he benched in the first half of the Warriors’ 78-73 win over the UST Growling Tigers last week.
“But against, especially (Alfred) Aroga, he has to establish his game well and not just cancel each other out. He needs to assert himself,” he added.
Meantime, NU counterpart Eric Altamirano admits the Bulldogs’ main goal is to put the clamps on the power-playing Mammie, while making sure the team’s perimeter gunners made their own shots.
The Bulldogs travelled all the way to Reyes gym in Mandaluyong City, away from the flood-prone NU campus in Sampaloc, Manila, to have their final preparation on Friday, notwithstanding the thorough rain brought about by typhoon Mario.
“We had light practice, but we had to work on our offense as well as prepare on our defense, especially si Mammie, na malaking bagay talaga sa kanila (Red Warriors) because he can impose himself inside,” Altamirano said.
UE dropped a 55-57 loss to NU during the two team’s first round meeting, but managed to bounce back in the second round after pulling off a 64-55 win.
Mammie, who was held scoreless in the two team’s first meeting, exploded for a season-high 22 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to lead the Warriors to the nine-point victory last Aug. 31.
But outside of Mammie, the soft-spoken NU coach said the Bulldogs still have to be prepared for their opponent’s trademark trapping defense.
“Kailangang mag-improve kami sa offense namin, but also be prepared for their trapping defense. Trademark na nila yun, so again, kung sino ang maka-impose ng sarili nila sa game gets the chance to win,” added the 48-year-old Altamirano.