by Eriko dela Cruz
Pamantasan ng Silangan
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Guess what UE fans, this isn’t just a cheer anymore. The UE Red Warriors are back.
After what seemed like forever, the UE Red Warriors are above the .500 mark, fresh off a 78-68 win against the UST Growling Tigers.
The last time that UE had a 3-2 record was in Season 77, where they barely missed the Final Four after dropping the playoff game against the NU Bulldogs. That was 8 years ago. After that, UE went downhill, which became the butt of a multitude of memes from Chef and Brigh of UAAP Basketball 24/7.
Back then, just mentioning the UE Red Warriors put the fear of God in the hearts of their opponents. James Yap, Marcy Arellano, James Martinez, and Paul Lee all led their teams to winning records, constantly competing for postseason slots every season. The same cannot be said about this team the past few years. Sure, there are cult heroes like Alvin Pasaol and Rey Suerte, but they have mostly stayed at the cellar. So what has turned things around for the Red Warriors this season?
Coach Jack Santiago was a long-time assistant of Franz Pumaren, and one of the tenets of the Pumaren system is having a solid to a stupid-good guard rotation. He got that in spades with Kyle and Nico Paranada, the brothers from the US. Both of them never saw shots they did not like, but in a good way. This has been rewarded by having most halfcourt sets designed for them to get open and take their shots.
LUIS VILLEGAS: MORE THAN JUST A CULT HERO
While all the hype is on the Paranada brothers (and believe me the hype is well-deserved), Luis Villegas deserves a lot of love. Villegas has easily been of the top three options of UE on offense, just behind the brothers. He has been a Swiss Army knife for the Red and White. In UE’s last win, he put his fingerprints all over scoring 17 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals. Much like Pasaol and Suerte before him, there is a lot to love about this guy.
THE SUPPORTING CAST
Every successful UE team has had a bevy of players ready to step up when called. In the early 2000s, James Yap and Ronald Tubid had Arnold Booker, Phillip Butel, and Jason Alminario. In the late 2000s, Paul Lee and James Martinez had Rudy Lingganay, Hans Thiele, and Raffy Reyes. These Season 85 Red Warriors have that DNA, with Antiporda, Stevens, and Payawal. These are the guys who are not expected to score in bunches, but can when the need arises. Jojo Antiporda pouring all of his 13 points in the second half? Easy. Gani Stevens casually scoring 11 off the UST frontline? Please.
THE COACHING STAFF
As previously mentioned, Jack Santiago was a long-time assistant of Franz Pumaren. Last season, he was looking for his identity as a head coach. Looks like he finally found it, with the right pieces. Of course, saying that the full-court press would be the backbone of the system is like saying the sky is blue. But now, he’s mixing it up with halfcourt traps, different variants of the zone, and man-to-man defenses. Ball rotation is also starting to be good, with players willing to dish it to the open man.
Gone are the days when facing UE meant an automatic win. You can be sure that these Red Warriors are going to fight, and that should be enough to put a little scare in the hearts of the other teams. Blink, and they just might beat you.
Pamantasan ng Silangan
Tatalunin ang Kalaban.