MANILA, Philippines – University of the Philippines pulled off a stunning upset on Saturday, when they handed defending champion De La Salle University its first loss of the UAAP Season 80 men's basketball tournament.
Paul Desiderio was the hero of the game for UP once more, as he scored 30 points on 8-of-15 shooting and made six three pointers. But several others stepped up – Jun Manzo scored nine of his 17 points in the fourth frame, and the Gomez de Liaño brothers combined for 20 points. Rob Ricafort made his UAAP debut and provided an emotional boost for the Fighting Maroons.
For La Salle coach Aldin Ayo, however, the Fighting Maroons did not do anything spectacular in the game.
"Wala naman ginawa (na bago)," Ayo said of UP in the wake of the Fighting Maroons' 98-87 victory.
Even Desiderio's blistering performance did not faze him. "Ginawa na sa amin ni Desiderio 'yun sa Davao," he said, referring to a preseason game against UP. "So 'yung usual. We prepared ourselves for that."
Ayo believes that it was not what UP did that doomed the Green Archers; rather, it was what his players did not do.
"Hindi kami naglaro ng laro namin, especially sa depensa. We were really complacent, and we were not ready sa ginagawa nila," said Ayo.
"Lahat naman ng ginawa nila doon sa court, ni-run naman namin during the practice at nasa scouting report namin," he added. "The problem is some of the players were not responding. They were complacent."
The Green Archers gave up too many open looks for the Fighting Maroons, and as a result, UP knocked down 16 of its 35 three-point attempts – tied for the most triples in a game since 2003. As a team, UP shot 47.37% from the field, and limited their turnovers to just 16 despite La Salle's furious full court press.
"Hindi mangyayari ang mga tres na 'yun kung nag-depensa kami ng maayos eh," Ayo rued.
On offense, there were several issues as well. Ben Mbala knocked down four three-pointers in the first quarter en route to a career high 34-point performance, but his other teammates were once again inefficient in their shooting.
"Sa offense, balik kami doon sa breakdown kaagad," said Ayo. "Instead of executing out schemes, we tend to rely on our individual capabilities. Some were bad shots also."
"Every time we take bad shots, they had an opportunity to go for the transition, kaya tinakbuhan kami ng tinakbuhan," he noted.
Mbala made 11 of his 19 field goals, but the rest of the Green Archers shot only 33.89% from the field. Skipper Kib Montalbo was 2-of-7, and reigning Rookie of the Year Aljun Melecio made only two of 12 attempts.
"Pagdating ni Ben, parang they took a step back," Ayo said of Melecio and Montalbo. "Hindi nila nakukuha ang rhythm nila. I've been telling them, especially Aljun, na he just has to play his game."
Ayo wonders if fatigue has something to do with their performance. The Green Archers were playing their third game in a week, and their system is an unforgiving one that requires the players to go full throttle on both ends of the floor.
"Siguro ko, baka pagod," Ayo admitted. "Baka physically na-drain, or baka mentally na rin, psychologically na-drain na rin yung mga bata."
Ultimately, however, their problem boiled down to their execution, or lack of it.
"I told the boys to really stick to the game plan. The problem is yun nga, hindi nag-respond eh. We have to do more in terms of executing our game plan," Ayo stressed. "Kasi last game, ganoon din ang nangyari eh. Ngayon, ganoon ulit. So hopefully we’ll learn from those two games."
The good news for La Salle is that they have a week-long rest before returning on September 30 to play University of Santo Tomas. Ayo says they will take advantage of that respite.
"We have to regroup, we have to rest our bodies and pati utak namin. Then start practicing, start getting ready for UST on Saturday," he said.
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