MANILA, Philippines – Ron Dennison and Paul Desiderio added another chapter to their long personal history on Sunday, when they took the starring roles for their respective teams in the UAAP Season 80 men's basketball tournament.
Dennison, now the team captain of Far Eastern University (FEU), again drew the tough assignment of trying to stop Desiderio, who has firmly established himself as the primary option of University of the Philippines (UP).
Heading into the game, Desiderio had been averaging 21.0 points, second in the league. He was coming off a career-best 30-point explosion in UP's 98-87 upset of De La Salle University last week.
However, Dennison was prepared. He did not bother to watch game tape of Desiderio – "Hindi ko na pinanood, para hindi ako ma-stress," he quipped – but the FEU veteran was armed with years of experience against his UP counterpart, dating back to their days as teammates in the University of the Visayas.
"Alam ko na rin ang mga galaw niya, kasi teammate ko siya noong high school," said Dennison. "Kaya pamilyar ako sa mga ginagawa niya."
"Alam ko ang tendency niya, pero ngayon, ang laki ng improvement niya kaya natuwa rin ako, kasi na-challenge din ako sa kanya," he added. "Sabi ko, 'Grabe itong batang 'to, ang laki na in-improve mula high school.'"
Dennison anchored FEU's stifling defense on Desiderio, forcing him to drive into traffic and denying him his usual passing lanes. Dennison chased him around screens tirelessly, and refused to give him any space whenever he went up for shots.
Desiderio made only four of his 12 shots for nine points. Moreover, he did not attempt a single free throw in the game.
"Nagawa namin 'yung ni-ready namin sa UP," Dennison beamed after the Tamaraws claimed a 78-59 win over the Fighting Maroons. "Lalong-lalo na sa side ko, kay Desiderio. Na-limit ko talaga ang score niya."
This marks the third straight game that Dennison has served as the primary defender on Desiderio, with all three games going FEU's way. But for the Tamaraw guard, this particular victory carries a special significance.
That's because Dennison still clearly remembers how Desiderio got the best of him when they faced off in Season 79. In their first round meeting, Desiderio was able to bait him into committing a disqualifying foul that got him thrown out of the game.
FEU still won that contest, 51-49, but Dennison's ejection rankled, even a year later.
"Depensa lang talaga ako ng malinis. Kasi last year, 'di ba, naisahan niya ako sa flop," Dennison said. "Kaya kanina, umaarte na naman siya."
"Pero hindi ko siya pinagbigyan talaga, na gagawin niya sa akin 'yun," he firmly added.
Dennison's defensive effort earned praise from his coach, Olsen Racela, who said: "Malaking bagay 'pag meron kang Ron Dennison na 'di mo na poproblemahin, iiwan mo na lang sa kanya."
Even Desiderio was forced to admit that Dennison truly got the better of him this time around.
"Alam niya lahat ng galaw ko," he said. "Nag-struggle ako sa offense. Magaling talagang dumepensa si Ron. Alam niya lahat ng galaw ko, alam niya."
The scoreboard is now a firm 3-0 in favor of Dennison and the Tamaraws against Desiderio and UP. In their past three meetings, Desiderio has scored a grand total of 37 points on only 13-of-41 shooting from the field.
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