The UAAP Season 80 Review: A Year Filled with Surprises and Drama

Nevertheless, it has been a season for the books

La Salle vs Ateneo
This season’s Men’s Basketball Tournament is more than just about the Ateneo-La Salle Rivalry.
Over the past seasons, the Men’s Basketball tournament of the UAAP has been one of the country’s most exciting basketball leagues and mind you, folks. The UAAP is more than just about the fierce rivalry between the Ateneo de Manila Bule Eagles and the De La Salle Green Archers. And Season 80 is no different at all.

For those who were probably stuck in their studies all while the basketball wars were happening, below are just some of the stories which this pundit on wheels thinks has made 2017 memorable for the UAAP fans:

Surprise!

One of the teams that made the most impact this year was the UP Fighting Maroons. And nobody expected them to win. Especially not against a powerhouse team like the Green Archers whom they beat surprisingly by a big margin. They did by shutting down the rest of the Archers as Ben Mbala was almost impossible to stop. And it worked. Throughout the entire season, Paul Desiderio hit numerous game-winning treys. Unfortunately, UP came short of making it to the Final 4 but given the fact they were able to beat La Salle, it’s only a matter of time until UP becomes a Final 4-bound team.

Ateneo’s Redemption Season

After losing in the Finals last season against Jeron Teng and company, the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles wasted no time as they began the season by winning the first 13 games only to lose on the 14th against their archrivals. Then, their backs were forced onto the wall as the Far Eastern University Tamaraws forced a sudden-death match against the number one team. Fortunately, Isaac Go redeemed himself as he nailed two clutch baskets- one that forced overtime and the other one that sealed the win for the Eagles.
In the Finals against La Salle, Isaac Go was the hero of the series as he completed a 3-point play during the dying seconds of Game 1, allowing Ateneo to take Game 1. And when La Salle was threatening for the last time in a classic Game 3, Isaac Go received a pass from Thirdy Ravena and calmly drained a three-pointer to ice things up. Victory. Redemption. George Isaac Go.

La Salle’s Drama

Losing in the Finals against the Blue Eagles was definitely a bitter pill to swallow for the Archers. After all, they were the only ones who beat the Eagles during the elimination rounds.  And they came a defensive stop away from winning a second consecutive championship. They fell short. Tears were shred. Congratulatory and consoling hugs were exchanged. In the end, La Salle lost it all. And the drama was just getting started back then.
Coach Aldin Ayo said after the Finals series that 2-time MVP Ben Mbala still has one season of eligibility with the Green Archers. Then, Mbala said he has enough of the issues surrounding his eligibility owing to the reinstatement of the “seven years out of high school” rule by the UAAP. Mbala has taken his talents to Mexico after saying that he won’t waste a year doing nothing. In a snap, things went gloomier for La Salle.
Throughout the latter part of the season, Aldin Ayo’s name has been connected to the UST coaching job. Many speculated that Ayo’s former connections from the Letran Knights were pushing for him to transfer from Taft to Espana. At first, Ayo denied the rumors, saying that his commitment was with La Salle. WAS. After a few weeks, Aldin Ayo parted ways with the Green Archers- taking with him his coaching staff. Is Aldin Ayo really headed to Espana? We’ll all have to wait. 

Conclusion

Now that the season is over in the Men’s division, there are a few questions that need answers come Season 81. Will Ateneo repeat? Possibly. Who will take over from Ayo in La Salle? Nobody knows. For now. Will the Fighting Maroons ever make it back to the Final 4? That’s up for a debate. Nevertheless, it has been a pleasant season in general- except if you’re a fan of the UST Growling Tigers. 

Pido Jarencio Not Closing Door on Return to UST

Pido Jarencio says he’s still waiting for UST to ask him to return.

The UST Growling Tigers have been losing their claws in the men’s division of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament and who would have thought things would have gone to something as worse as finishing the UAAP Season 80 with only one win in 14 games- a win against their fellow bottom-dweller, UE Red Warriors on their last game?
Right after another disappointing season, Boy Sablan and his entire coaching staff made their exit, paving way for a search of a new coach who can help the UST Growling Tigers regain heir long-lost glory in basketball. There were many names that have been included in the rumors.
For starters, the name of Aldin Ayo, currently serving as the head coach of the De La Salle Green Archers who recently lost in the Finals against the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles.has been one of the names that have been making the loudest noise. That was until Ayo himself shot down the rumors, stating that he is committed to La Salle. For now. 
Other names that have been heard are former UST player Bal David and even Alfrancis Chua, governor of the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings in the PBA who insisted that he only wanted to help UST in other ways. UST only needs to do one thing: tell Chua what the school’s plans for their basketball team.
However, there’s one specific name which has been in the hearts and minds of the UST faithfuls. That name belongs to Pido Jarencio, the coach who last led the Growling to a championship and a pair of Finals appearances.
While Pido Jarencio is back as the head coach of the GlobalPort Batang Pier who dropped their opening game against the NLEX Road Warriors, the former PBA player has already indicated in his Twitter account that he hasn’t shot down the possibility of him returning at the helm of UST- even saying that he’s courting UST to allow him to coach again.

Will Pido Jarencio be able to turn things around for UST?

The answer to that question is simple: YES!
Despite his tendency to drive his players nuts especially when his temper gets in the way, having Pido Jarencio as their coach will help UST regain their confidence and hopefully re-establish a winning attitude. Pido Jarencio has been known as a tough coach to play under but that toughness is due to his undying desire to make his team better. After all, Jarencio has transformed UST from becoming the first 4th seeded team to beat the top-seeded team in the Final 4, to a champion team during his stint.

Conclusion  

Now that Pido Jarencio has openly indicated that he is more than willing to make a return to Espana, the ball is now in the hands of the UST Growling Tigers themselves. If they want to become competitive again come Season 81 and beyond, they should start by hiring a coach who has a winning record and a winning attitude. Fortunately, Pido Jarencio has both.

Rumor of Ayo’s Move to UST Continues to Make Noise

A Wheeler’s Opinion: Aldin Ayo to UST: Will it Happen?

Rumor has it that some alumni of La Salle have grown “unhappy” with Ayo. 
Aldin Ayo came to the De La Salle Green Archers right after leading the Letran Knights to an NCAA championship in 2015. And Coach Ayo wasted no time as he led the Archers in winning the first 13 games of the UAAP Season 79 before surprisingly dropping the last game against the equally-surprising Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles that denied La Salle an outright Finals berth. 
Both teams went on to meet again in the Finals which was won by La Salle of course, in two close encounters. That made Aldin Ayo the first coach to win two consecutive championships from the NCAA and the UAAP. 
Fast forward to Season 80 of the UAAP, Ateneo and La Salle will meet again in the Finals which kicks off with Game 1 this Saturday. 
Ateneo, like La Salle did last year, blew the chance of sweeping the 14-game elimination rounds after dropping the final game against La Salle. Then, the Blue Eagles had to survive a do-or-die game against the Far Eastern University Tamaraws before sealing the ticket to the Final dance with Ben Mbala and the rest of the defending champions.
As both teams are busy preparing for another Finals clash between two fierce rivals, a rumor came out from various media outlets. The rumor: Aldin Ayo will take over the head coaching job at the helm of the UST Growling Tigers- a team that dropped its first 13 games before holding on to a win during the final game against the UE Red Warriors.
Wait! What? Aldin Ayo to UST? If you are to believe the rumor, yeah. The current La Salle coach is on his way to Espana.
But will it happen?

Impossible

Let’s be realistic, folks. You’re winning in La Salle. You’re about to coach in your 3rd consecutive Finals in 3 seasons and you are poised to win another championship. And as far as La Salle officials are concerned, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco- the man who was behind bringing Ayo to Taft, is happy with Ayo at the helm of the Green Archers- that he is very happy with the huge amount of success that the team is currently enjoying despite notable losses this season. So generally speaking, it’s impossible for Aldin Ayo to make the move to Espana anytime soon. There’s simply no reason for him, at the moment, to make such a move.

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But

Nobody thought that Aldin Ayo would move to La Salle until it actually took place. Having said that, La Salle fans can only pray that this rumor will stay as a rumor because whether we like it or not, anything can happen.

Conclusion

UST is in need of a new coach to make the Tigers competitive again. And assuming the Ayo move materializes, it will need more than just a coaching change for UST to become competitive again come Season 81. But the question is: will the move materialize indeed? We’ll need to play the wait-and-see game. 

A Wheeler’s Opinion: Why Ateneo won’t Win in the Finals against La Salle?

That’s assuming Ateneo sweeps the elimination rounds. And La Salle goes to the Finals, Too

The Blue Eagles are aiming for a possible sweep of the elimination rounds heading into their last 2 games: one of them is against La Salle. 
Sure, Thirdy Ravena soared up for a posterizing dunk in the dying minutes of the Blue Eagles’ 102-83 victory against the still winless UST Growling Tigers. 
Sure, the Blue Eagles were able to keep their undefeated slate with 2 more games to play. 
Sure, they can relax a little bit against the UP Fighting Maroons whom they will face next on Wednesday but knowing Tab Baldwin, he wouldn’t do it. 
It’s not in his character especially being recognized as an international coach. And if you’re facing a team like the Maroons, you should play as if you’re playing against the Ben Mbala-led Green Archers of La Salle because in case you haven’t been watching the UAAP, UP has accumulated 5 wins this season: one of them is against the Green Archers themselves so UP is not the team that Ateneo should be laughing at especially if they want to go straight to the Finals.
Now, La Salle, despite not being the who is on a verge of sweeping their way into the Finals, remains as the favorites to repeat as champions. 
Why? For one, they have the reigning MVP, Ben Mbala who is averaging 26 points per game this season and nobody in the league can match-up against him. 
Another reason why La Salle is still a better team than Ateneo is Ricci Rivero. Rivero has been playing impressive basketball aside from his high-flying dunks. 
Sure, Anton Asistio can knock down three after three after three but when it comes to athleticism, that’s where Ricci Rivero comes into the picture. In fact, it was Rivero’s 19 points that led the way for La Salle against the Blue Eagles back in their first-round encounter which Ateneo won, 76-75.
If there’s one team who is capable of going to the Finals aside from the defending champions, it’s the Blue Eagles. 
Why? They surprised everyone last season when they reached the Finals when everyone thought they wouldn’t even reach the Final 4. They were also the only team to beat La Salle last season. And they gave La Salle everything they had during the Finals and despite La Salle winning the championships thanks to the heroics of eventual Finals MVP Jeron Teng, everyone knew from that moment, Ateneo will be back in the Finals. 
The question is: Can they finally get over the hump and beat La Salle?

The answer is no

Why no? Below are the reasons:

Big Ben is a Big Problem

Sure, Chibueze Ikeh has been playing his best season with the Blue Eagles but Ben Mbala won last season’s MVP for one reason: he caused the biggest problems for his opponents. 
Sure, you can throw two or even three defenders against Mbala but given the fact that La Salle is also loaded with perimeter shooters, it’s not a strategy any coach would employ regardless of Mbala’s performance.
Ateneo may have an emerging Ikeh plus an improving Isaac Go but defending Mbala is entirely a different thing. Big Ben may have scored 18 points against Ateneo back in the first round but we all know he can score more and we can expect to put up an MVP performance come the second-round encounter between both teams on November 12, 2017. And he will be haunting Ateneo should both teams meet again come the Finals. 

Ateneo’s Dangerous Tendency

If there’s one thing that could doom Ateneo’s chances of winning the championship for the first time since the Norman Black era, it’s their bad habit of letting their opponents stay within striking distance before finally stepping on the accelerator late in the game and breaking the game open. This was visible during yesterday’s game between Ateneo and UST where the Growling Tigers were actually within 5 points during the early goings of the Finals until Ateneo stepped on the gas and were never threatened the rest of the way. 
The good thing was: it was only UST. It could have been worse had Ateneo was playing against La Salle. And Ateneo can’t play this way most especially against La Salle because whether Ateneo likes it or no, they were lucky against La Salle back in the first round. They allowed the Green Archers to actually take the lead in the 4th quarter only to win it thanks to a sorry La Salle turnover plus a pair of charities from Mike Nieto. 

Conclusion

Regardless if Ateneo sweeps the elimination rounds or not, we can expect both Ateneo and La Salle to meet again, at least two more times after November 12. For the Blue Eagles, it’s simple: Shut down Mbala and clamp down on defense and you beat the champs. Let the Archers hang around and you can say goodbye to a thrice-to-beat advantage in the Finals. 

UST Growling Tigers survived a gritty UE Warriors

It was all UE Warriors at the first half. They basically shots the lights out and helping them is that UST just committed a lot of turnovers.

UE begin to have a problem in the 3rd quarter. Henry Subido, Jon Sherrif and Marvin Lee helped the tigers to unleashed a 3 quarter comeback.

Then it was a Subido show at the start of the 4th, as he scored 8 straight points and UST opens an 11 point lead but UE bounced back trim the lead to 1 point with almost 35 seconds remaining in the game.

UE just can’t manage to score and UST knocks down a crucial free throws to seal the deal.

Box Score:

UST 88 – Subido 26, Sheriff 15, Lee 14, Vigil 10, Macasaet 8, Basibas 4, Faundo 4, Lao 3, Bonleon 2, De Guzman 2, Afoakwah 0, Huang 0

UE 87 – Abanto 15, Batiller 15, Olayon 14, Palma 10, Pasaol 8, Bartolome 6, De Leon 4, Charcos 4, Manalang 4, Varilla 3, Armenion 2, Gagate 2, Derige 0, Larupay 0, Penuela 0

Quarter scoring: 16-24, 39-47, 69-64, 88-87

Ateneo’s Aaron Black and Thirdy Ravena combines for 40 points to beat UST

It was a grind it out game, from start to finish until Aaron Black converts a crucial basket to fend off UST, 73 to 69.

The score after 3rd quarter is 52 to 51 in favor of Ateneo but because of their good ball movement, they was able to have a good run to have a commanding 66 – 53 lead mid way of the last quarter.

UST tried to inch closer, they come closer up to 71 – 66 but a big shot from Aaron Black breaks the momentum of UST.

Aaron Black led the Blue Eagles with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assist while Louie Vigil finished with 21 points, 9 rebound and 5 assist for UST.

Box Scores:

ATENEO 73 – Black 23, Ravena 17, Nieto Mi 7, Asistio 6, Wong 5, Mendoza 5, Babilonia 4, Tolentino 2, Go 2, Nieto Ma 2, Ikeh 0, Porter 0, Verano 0

UST 69 – Vigil 21, Macasaet 12, Bonleon 9, Lao 8, Basibas 7, Faundo 6, Subido 2, Afoakwah 2, De Guzman 2, Sheriff 0, Lee 0, Arana 0, Huang 0

Scoring per quarter: 14-17, 34-34, 52-51, 73-69

Next Game for both team:
Ateneo against NU: September 11 at Araneta Coliseum

UST against UE: September 10 at Araneta Coliseum

Jamil Sheriff has been cleared to play in UAAP Season 79

UST dodge a bullet as their best point guard in the roster, Jamil Sheriff has been finally cleared by the eligibility board to play his last season in UAAP.

Growling Tiges, contested that Sheriff should be covered by the old rule where players are ineligible if they turn 25 past July 31. The new rule puts the cut off at June 30 and he turned 25 years old last July 21.

But the committee ruled that Sheriff is still eligible and the steady playmaker who averaged 3.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists last season which UST finished runner up to FEU will be seen again by the UAAP Community.

Sheriff will been tomorrow as UST collides with Ateneo.