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Opinion

Game 3 or game over?

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The UP Fighting Maroons had an impressive debut in the UAAP Season 81 Men’s Basketball Finals even if they lost to defending champion Ateneo de Manila.

All things considered, the Maroons gave a good account of themselves in their first Finals appearance since the fabled 1986 squad brought home the title.

Could some things have been better? Certainly.

For one, UP shouldn’t have turned the ball over 19 times. That led to Ateneo’s scoring 20 points off UP’s miscues.

Another, Paul Desiderio definitely wishes he should’ve shot better. Mr. “Atin ‘to” was one of the hottest-shooting guys entering the Finals but he finished with a measly five points in 32 minutes.

Was his shooting percentage low? Not really. It was 33.3 percent, which isn’t too bad by UAAP standards but the more glaring stat is that he only had six attempts from the floor.

We’re talking about a guy who averaged close to 15 field goal attempts per game in the eliminations and Final Four. For him to shoot only six times means either his nerves got to him (extremely unlikely) or the defense shut him down.

Ateneo’s defense was just stark in Game 1. Entering the Finals, the Blue Eagles were the top-ranked defensive team, giving up the fewest points per game and per 100 possessions.

They were also second-best in FG% allowed per game and the best at forcing turnovers.

In contrast, UP was one of the top offensive teams. The Maroons were No. 1 in points per game, FG%, points in the paint and assists.

On a purely numbers perspective, one might say that it was the league’s top defense and top offense squaring off for the diadem.

Obviously, defense won. The age-old cliche about winning championships seems to have rung true again.

They shut down Desiderio and forced a ton of UP turnovers. Did UP score much lower than their average? Nope. They still managed to score 79 points thanks to the big game of Jun Manzo, who had a personal best 19 points in the losing effort.

Another thing UP likely wished they had done better was defend against Ateneo. Now, the Maroons aren’t a terrible defensive unit but at the same time they’re not elite. They’re a middling team in terms of most defensive metrics and that’s where they need to focus on if they are to force a Game 3 this coming weekend.

Even if UP scores a ton or shoots fireballs out of Palma Hall on Wednesday, that won’t make much of a difference if they cannot stop Ateneo which is the second-best scoring team in the tournament.

For that to happen, coach Bo and his staff need to devise a defensive scheme that will not necessarily force a lot of Ateneo turnovers but that will force the Ateneans to counter their tendencies.

And, of course, the Maroons have to execute sharply. Otherwise, instead of forcing Game 3, UP’s honeymoon period in the Finals will face a quick “Game Over.”

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