By Francis De Ungria
UP’s championship last season was like a well-written piece on the art of basketball and everything that comes with it. They were the Avengers, the last hope. It felt like that championship was the culmination of what the UP community endured through its darkest years, and then with a shot from the heavens, they won it.
But this season is different. While last season was their destiny to win the championship and end a 36-year championship drought, this season will add to their legacy as the best UP Fighting Maroons team of all-time, and will certainly be in the discussion for one of the UAAP’s all-time great teams. Posting a league-best defensive rating this season (85.8), UP has clamped down against UAAP’s elite offenses. Their offense is currently ranked second (96.3) behind Ateneo (100.1), but when things clicked, it felt like they were the best offensive team in the UAAP.
With that in mind, what are the keys for UP to win back-to-back titles and solidify their legacy in the UAAP?
Zavier Lucero needs to show up
Lucero has everything you need for a modern wing, he can shoot, pass, and dribble enough to make him a focal point of your offense. But he also has the physical gifts and defensive instincts that make you wonder about Lucero’s potential as he moves up to the pros. But against Ateneo, he has only averaged 5 points on just 19.7% True Shooting. With the possibility of Carl Tamayo not being 100%, the Fighting Maroons will have to bank on Lucero for offensive firepower.
Defending the three
UP would need to take notes when Ateneo showed a glimpse of how they can dominate teams with their three-point shooting when they faced the Adamson Soaring Falcons in their Final Four matchup. The good news is, UP has limited their opponents to shooting 23.66% beyond the arc. But in their recent game versus Ateneo where they lost, they have allowed the Blue Eagles to shoot 36.0% from three.
Asserting themselves offensively
The offensive firepower UP has should be unmatched. They have the shooting prowess of Terrence Fortea, James Spencer, and Harold Alarcon. Who could even defend a lineup with Zavier Lucero and Carl Tamayo in it? Not to mention the duo of JD Cagulangan and Malick Diouf who has shown up for UP in the most crucial of times. But that hasn’t been the case consistently. While they do possess the second-best offense in the UAAP, their offense has performed worse when facing UAAP’s elite defense. With the Blue Eagles hungrier than ever, the Fighting Maroons would need to polish their execution and assert themselves as the better team offensively.
Malick Diouf Forever
The MVP holds two key factors to determine UP’s fate in this finals series. On defense, he will need to anchor the league-best UP defense while also clamping down against all-time UAAP great Ange Kouame. On offense, he will need to remain consistent for the Fighting Maroons while also alleviating some pressure off the UP guards as a post hub.
We should be in for another classic matchup between the new-age rivals. At the start of the season, it looked like UP was miles away from the competition, but with Ateneo peaking just before the finals, the Fighting Maroons will need to execute a masterclass on both ends of the court, which they can do. UP in three.
Six teams down. One more to go.
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