UAAP 82: Newcomers, fresh faces who left an impact on final-4 squads


Posted at Nov 06 2019 10:37 AM | Updated as of Nov 06 2019 11:35 AM

Every year, the UAAP parades a batch of underclassmen who are either ready to make an immediate impact as a first-year player, or ready to break out as a sophomore after one season learning the ropes.

With the semifinals underway in a few hours, these are the 7 fresh faces who figured in key roles in their teams' run to the final 4.

UAAP 82: Newcomers, fresh faces who left an impact on final-4 squads 1

LJ Gonzales
Far Eastern University | Guard | Sophomore
14 games, 14 starts | 10.79 points | 7.43 rebounds | 4 assists

Gonzales' role with the Tamaraws wasn't given to him; he earned it.

He was a Mythical Team member as part of the FEU juniors squad, which he led to a UAAP title, and entered the seniors division oozing with promise. 

But the Isabela province native didn't let his accomplishments get in his head. He waited for his turn, playing behind veteran teammates in Season 81. This year, FEU head coach Olsen Racela gave him the freedom to lead the Tamaraws, and his trust and Gonzales' patience are paying off.

Gonzales and back-court mate Royce Alforque are jelling, and their performance against University of Santo Tomas kickstarted a 4-1 finish that propelled the Tamaraws to the No.3 seed after a subpar 3-4 start.

Gonzales finished with 17 points, shooting 8 of 15 from the field in the UST game. In the win against University of the East that helped FEU clinch a final 4 berth, Gonzales tallied 12 points and 10 rebounds.

UAAP 82: Newcomers, fresh faces who left an impact on final-4 squads 2

Royce Alforque
FEU | Guard | Rookie
14 games, 0 starts | 4.36 points | 2.71 rebounds | 1.86 assists

With the Cebuano guard in the fold, FEU can be assured it has a backcourt that knows how to win.

Alforque and Gonzales were part of the Baby Tamaraws' Season 79 title-winning team, and the big brother-little brother relationship between the two at the time is continuing this year with higher stakes.

Alforque had a forgettable Season 82 first round, but when he got more burn in the second round he promised not to disappoint

His star turn came against the Growling Tigers, whom Alforque torched for 16 points en route to a 72-58 win, a result that breathed life into their push for a semifinals berth.

The counting stats don't do justice to Alfoque's impact on the team, but the Tamaraws are plus-16 when he's on the floor, notable for a player in his first year on the seniors squad.

UAAP 82: Newcomers, fresh faces who left an impact on final-4 squads 3

Xyrus Torres
FEU | Guard-Forward | Rookie
14 games, 8 starts | 7.43 points | 30 3-pointers | 1.93 rebounds

For those watching Batang Gilas recently, his inclusion on this list should not come as a surprise.

His reliable 3-point game is his signature asset, boasting a respectable 34.88% clip from downtown.

Torres has the license to let it fly, and when his shots find their target the Tamaraws are dangerous.

His best game in Season 82 thus far was against Adamson, scoring 21 points and making 5 3-pointers in a convincing 83-71 victory.

Torres once acknowledged there was criticism over his propensity to shoot; instead of shying away from it, he said he learned to embrace it.

"Sinasabi lang naman lagi nina coach, gawin ko lang 'yung role ko kasi and'yan naman 'yung mga point guard namin at alam nila kung nasaan ako," he said.

UAAP 82: Newcomers, fresh faces who left an impact on final-4 squads 4

Will Navarro
Ateneo | Forward | Sophomore
13 games, 13 starts | 7.38 points | 5.77 rebounds

Although it's hard to stand out in a well-oiled team that includes a frontline of Thirdy Ravena and Angelo Kouame, Will Navarro has made himself a vital cog in the Tab Baldwin system because of his smart play and effort. 

The 6-foot-5 big man had a unique journey before landing in Katipunan — he arrived at Loyola from San Beda (where he won a title as a seldom used Red Lions player) and Greece before that where he was raised.

Baldwin has repeatedly praised Navarro's efficiency, making a note of this in Ateneo's first-round win over FEU and the Blue Eagles' second-round victory over UP where Navarro was perfect from the field on 6 shots for 13 points.

"Look at that stat sheet and go to the efficiency and Will's plus-30 in this game. And the reason he's plus-30 and the reason that I asked him to be here today is that he understands the little things that have to be done," Baldwin said after the FEU win.

"They're the things that make the team play better," the coach added. "It's about efficiency and Will was the poster boy for efficiency today."

UAAP 82: Newcomers, fresh faces who left an impact on final-4 squads 5

SJ Belangel
Ateneo | Guard | Sophomore
14 games, 0 starts | 6.4 points | 40.48% 3-point shooting | 2.07 assists

With the Blue Eagles' 2-time championship core graduating at season's end, the question is who will take over from the veterans.

At the point-guard spot, Belangel is a prime candidate to become the primary man.

The second-year guard from Bacolod doesn't have the most eye-popping stats, but he gets the job done when Baldwin calls his number — like everyone else on the Blue Eagles.

A few things Belangel does that pops out for a second-year player — he can hit the three and make the right plays under duress.

That was evident in his 14-point output in Ateneo's 86-64 blowout win over UP to finish the elimination round undefeated.

Belangel is no stranger to winning or perfect seasons, having won the juniors title via sweep in Season 80.

UAAP 82: Newcomers, fresh faces who left an impact on final-4 squads 6

Rhenz Abando
University of Santo Tomas | Forward | Rookie
13 games, 4 starts | 12.23 points | 32 3-pointers | 5 rebounds | 1.15 blocks

The idea that some teams were bold enough to try and snatch this dude mid-season is an indication of how good this transferee from Pangasinan is.

His scoring, rebounding, and minutes averages are first among UST's local players, and he is the Growling Tigers' top shot-blocker.

He had everybody on notice in his first game for España, scoring 22 points and knocking down 5 triples en route to a UST win over UE. He was in heat-check against La Salle in the second round, stringing together 3 consecutive 3-pointers, a barrage that was wasted when his last long bomb was ruled a 2-pointer.

By all measures, he is still raw, but in the hands of 2-league champion Ayo, he's a program cornerstone in the making.

UAAP 82: Newcomers, fresh faces who left an impact on final-4 squads 7

Mark Nonoy
University of Santo Tomas | Guard | Rookie
14 games, 6 starts | 10 points | 26 3-pointers | 2.29 assists

With the amount of trust Ayo is putting on his rookies, one would think UST is focused on developing its younger players, punting this season and preparing for the future.

But because the young guns are responding, the Growling Tigers are in the final 4 and have a chance to make a deeper run.

Nonoy, a UST high-school alum, embodies that win-now attitude.

The 5-foot-8 guard was a stat-stuffer with the Tiger Cubs, averaging nearly 22 points and 9 rebounds, to go with 6 assists on his last year on the juniors level. He obviously had to dial back his game on the seniors team, but his tirelessness and heady play remained a constant.

Ayo has said he wants Nonoy to set his teammates up more than to look for his shot. While that's being worked on, however, the head coach can find consolation in a young group that's confident in its ability to play on even terms against the league's more experienced teams.

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