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In Your Face!

Let's talk balls.

  1. Round One. And Done.

    So many exciting things happened in Round 1 of the UAAP Season 82 Men's Basketball Tournament that we are a little glad it is finally over, since we indeed need to catch our breath and look over some things.

    Let us begin by taking a look at the official team standings:

    1. Ateneo (7-0)
    2. UP (5-2)
    3. UST (4-3)
    4. Lasalle (3-4)
    5. FEU (3-4)
    6. Adamson (3-4)
    7. UE (2-5)
    8. NU (1-7)

    First things first, so we can get this out of the way already: Ateneo De Manila has swept the first round, and save for their one-point escape over UST, all of their games have been blow-outs, their biggest one of course coming over the weekend at the expense of the UP Fighting Maroons, 89-63.

    How the heck a team that is near the bottom in terms of offense - both in terms of points scored as a team, and team field goal percentage - has been this dominant can be summed up in one word. "Defense. We can always count on our defense," exclaimed Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin in one interview. "Whether we can put the ball into the hoop might be a matter of luck going game to game no matter how well we prepare, but we know consistently what our defense can give us," he added.

    That defense begins and ends with Ateneo import Angelo Kouame, all 6-feet-11-inches of him, has blocked more shots than entire TEAMS. In fact only the Adamson Falcons - as a TEAM - have more blocks than Kouame. And even this might have already changed since the Ivorian big man chocked up another seven rejections against UP over the weekend. With the giant Ivorian patrolling the paint, teams simply cannot get their usual incursions or even second chances at the basket. Kouame also has a 7-foot-6-inch wingspan, great quickness, agility, and natural instincts going after the ball. His teammates can thus gamble more freely going after steals or even doubling and helping everywhere else while he stays home in the lane that is shaded. "It is just insane how much he can cover," rued Shaun Ildefonso in one interview, the NU forward whose team got blasted by the Ateneo by 21 points.

    Everytime Kouame is on the floor his team either builds up a big lead, or they quickly turn a deficit around, and when he has to sit, the Ateneo game starts to falter like a military line in the age of muskets and grape shot. "Alam mo, huwag na kasing lokohin ni Tab ang mga tao, nadadale siya tuwi na lang inuupo niya ng pagkatagal-tagal si Kouame," remarked the ever-sage Mr. Libog. "Andami-dami niya nalalaman na hockey assist at play the right way, pero pag nakaupo si Kouame mga malalaking lamang natin, nagiging five, nagiging nine, muntikan pa tayo sa UST, kailangan mo ba ng hockey assist at play the right way para maka-putback 'yung giant import mo?" he added.

    Even the advanced metrics guys back that up, with Kouame currently a Plus 18 whenever he is on the floor, and a Minus 17 when he sits down.

    Speaking of sitting down...

    UP is still solidly in second place, but uneasy, ironically, must the Maroons sit at present. They've had a couple of one-point escapes, including their last one against Lasalle's Green Archers, thanks to a win-or-die buzzer-beating three-pointer from swingman Juan Gomez De Liano. They can also thank one-and-done Filipino-American forward Jamie Malonzo for muffing a flurry of freethrows in the last minute or so of their game, allowing the Maroons to turn a four-point deficit into a nail-biter of a win.

    These Maroons could just as easily be at 3-4 with their escape acts, but sometimes the good are also the lucky. "We're lucky we have great one-on-one talents on our team," admitted UP head coach Bo Perasol in one interview. "If things break down, as a coach i do not have to worry how to save a possession, because I have easily four or five players who can create and make things happen on their own," he added.

    Kobe Paras, the balikbayan forward, may be the primus inter pares among Perasol's talented one-on-one players with his size, length, athletic prowess, and ability to take the ball strong to the rack, aside from pulling up and also making the occasional trey. His emergence however may have cost Juan Gomez De Liano some possession time with the ball, a role he relished en route to his Mythical 5 Selection last season. Now Juan has taken a backseat to Paras, and even to his older brother Javier, averaging maybe a third of what he put up last season when he helped lead UP to the Season 81 Finals.

    Another missing link is Ricci Rivero, the other transfer student who was expected to pick up where he left off after he suddenly changed varsity address from Taft Ave to Diliman over a year ago. Rivero had a chance to strut his stuff in the first two games of the season as Paras sat out their games against FEU (close win) and UST (blown out by 16). Rivero was ...
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