Tight UAAP race looms; UST’s Aljon Mariano earns POWBy Jasmine W. Payo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—If the first week is any indication, the UAAP men’s basketball tournament this season will be a tight race.
Just when many picked four-time champion Ateneo and host National University as title contenders, both squads have already absorbed their first loss early in the season.
Far Eastern University came out as the only unbeaten squad, yet its first two triumphs were also far from convincing.
“We could have been at 0-2 right now,” FEU coach Bert Flores said of his Tamaraws, who won their first two assignments by just an average of 1.5 points.
“Lahat tsamba (We were just lucky). We still have a lot of things to work on, like our defense and rebounding.”
Ateneo also saw its bid for a fifth straight championship off to a rough start as the Blue Eagles, in a surprise meltdown, blew a 19-point lead and took a 71-70 loss from University of Santo Tomas.
“I reminded the players that our offense may be up and down, but our defense should be consistent,” coach Norman Black said after his Blue Eagles fiercely rebounded with an 89-65 rout of the Bulldogs.
“Whenever we go out in a game, we just have to focus on our defense just in case our offense isn’t clicking.”
The Tamaraws grabbed the solo lead at 2-0 after four playdates, followed by Ateneo and La Salle with similar 2-1 records.
The Bulldogs, tagged among the favorites after a strong summer run, wound up tied with the Tigers at 1-1.
Meanwhile, UST forward Aljon Mariano bagged the UAAP Press Corps Player of the Week award after starring in the biggest upset yet of the tournament.
Mariano, who sat out last year due to a fractured right ankle, unloaded 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Tigers’ surprise win.
“When I came back, I really wanted to make a strong impact,” said the 6-foot-3 Mariano, who earned the citation given by sportswriters covering the collegiate beat and Accel 3XVI.
Mariano edged other top performers for the week including FEU’s Terrence Romeo, Ateneo’s Nico Salva, NU’s Ray Parks and La Salle’s Jeron Teng.