EXCITEMENT is at an all-time high after University of the Philippines broke its 32-year finals dry-spell to book a shot at defending champion Ateneo for all the marbles in the UAAP Season 81 starting Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The buzz that surrounds this match-up generated interested among fans from all walks of life – starting from the hardcore supporters of both schools, to casual fans who just wants to have some good ol’ banter with their friends from the opposite side of Katipunan.
While this match-up needs no introduction for those who’ve been following the team, there could be some questions coming from fans who just started following the games again – be it through reignited school pride, or just sheer curiosity.
For those fans, worry not ‘cause SPIN got you covered.
They say Ateneo has been a very good team this season, how so?
Yes, Ateneo has been a very good team this season. In fact, they’ve been really good for the past three years under the tutelage of former national team coach Tab Baldwin, as they made the finals two years ago, won the championship last year and is gunning for another one this year.
Focusing on the season alone, the Blue Eagles are certainly a class above everyone – and one look at the stats provided by UAAP chief statistician Pong Ducanes will explain that to you.
Ateneo is easily the best defensive team this season, as they allow the least number of points in a game (61.9), forced the most number of turnovers (18.9) and ranks second with the least number of field goal percentage allowed (36.4%). They’re also the best rebounding team (47.1) and the best shot-blocking team in the league (5.6)
Oh, so they’re focused on defense. That means they’re not that good of an offensive team right?
Unfortunately for UP fans, that’s wrong as well. Ateneo may just be as good offensively as they are defensively.
On offense, the Blue Eagles average 78.8 points per game (second best in the league) while shooting a healthy (by collegiate standards) 39.8% shooting clip, as they posted a winning margin of 16.9 points throughout the 14-game elimination round.
They also share the ball well, finishing second in assists at 15.1 and they share it with caution as they average just 14.4 errors per game.
If Ateneo’s that good, then what chance does UP have against them?
For starters, the Fighting Maroons are the only team who can surely say that they do something better than Ateneo – and that’s to score, and boy they score a lot.
UP leads the league in scoring with an average of 80.3 points per game. They’re very efficient with their shots, shooting a league best 45 percent clip and that’s because they score 44.4 points on average each game on the inside.
They’re also fond of sharing the wealth, as 19.9 of their average of 32.2 field goals made came from assists.
If they truly want to win the series, then they have to outrun and outgun Ateneo.
Wait, I’m still not over the fact that UP’s in the finals, but they’re also the best offensive team in the league? How is that even possible?
Gone are the days when UP was the laughing stock of the league, and good recruitment, coupled with the arrival of homegrown talents has made the Fighting Maroons the team they are today.
From the looks of it, coach Bo Perasol already had the right pieces for his system.
For starters he has a potent inside presence in Bright Akhuetie, who’s on his way to becoming the first Most Valuable Player awardee from UP in decades. Remember that 44.4 points scored inside the paint? The 6’6 Nigerian had a lot of things to do with it as he averages 18.9 points per game, to go along 14.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Akhuetie’s decision to jump from Perpetual to University of the Philippines had a huge hand in UP’s run this season.
You were saying homegrown talents for UP?
Yes. Homegrown talents. In case you’re not familiar with him, let me introduce you to Juan Gomez de Liano, the sophomore guard out of UPIS who’s set to be named to the Mythical team at the tender age of 19.
Yes. He’s that good.
Gomez de Liano put up averages of 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game – dazzling the crowd with his aerial acrobatics and dazzling handles on the perimeter. He was also the first UP player since Marvin Cruz to notch a triple-double. At that young age, he may very well be the best guard in the UAAP.
His brother Javi, who’s also from UPIS, is also doing a solid job for the Fighting Maroons off the bench with averages of 8.5 points and 3.3 rebounds as a solid reliever and defender.
You seem to have left off someone, Paul Desiderio?
Paul Desiderio wasn’t left off. He already has a special place in the UP MBT lore for his guts and heart alone this season, and he certainly has a special place in this story.
A last remnant of that 0-14 squad, Desiderio worked his way from those horror days to being one of the most beloved Fighting Maroons in history.
For starters, UP wouldn’t have been here had it not for Desiderio and he did it not only by scoring the final five points for the Fighting Maroons in the knockout match against Ateneo, he also showed it by freeing up Bright Akhuetie through a good solid pick as UP forced the decider in Game One.
Desiderio’s numbers have taken a hit this season with the emergence of Akhuetie and Juan Gomez de Liano but he’s been nonetheless solid at 13.7 points per game.
What can’t be matched for Desiderio though is the countless times he’s saved his team by making one big play after another when needed the most.
All those good players for UP, why aren’t we hearing much about Ateneo players?
Part of it is because almost everyone contributes for coach Tab Baldwin that nobody really stands out. And that’s what makes this team special.
Sure, there’s Angelo Kouame, the 6’11 recruit from Ivory Coast who’s had averages of 14.4 points, 13.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks this season. There’s also Thirdy Ravena, who’s had a solid season with 12.1 points and 6.2 rebounds but aside from the two no other Ateneo player averaged double digits.
That says a lot about how the players have bought into the system of coach Tab Baldwin. Seven players are averaging more than four points per game, having a balance between points from starters (47.1) and the bench (31.7).
So who wins?
Ateneo certainly comes in as the favorite, having the experience and a proven system behind them. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past few games, UP certainly has the tools, the personnel and the confidence to pull off an upset or two against the defending champs.
That being said, may the best Katipunero win.