My thoughts on UST 84, DLSU 82

Aljon Mariano was clutch for UST. Photo copyright Bob Guerrero.

My game ball goes to the referees and table officials. Three times the officials reviewed close calls and nailed them. First, LA Revilla's late jumper at the end of regulation. The replay clearly showed that his hand was still on the ball with goose eggs on the clock. Props also to ABS-CBN Sports for getting the footage perfectly. Then later on, the referees, upon the request of DLSU apparently, correctly reverted possession to DLSU when it showed that the ball was tipped by Yutien Andrada and then went out of bounds off the knee of a Tiger. At the very end of the second extension the officials conferred and tacked on an extra .3 seconds on the clock, enough to give DLSU a better catch-and-shoot situation. Far too often we criticize referees and officials when they screw up. It's time that we also pat them on the back when they get it right.

Coach Pido Jarencio went with his gut, kept it simple, and it worked. Some coaches dabble with the triangle-and-two. Others learn the nuances of the Princeton offense. Still others will employ a flex offense to get the job done. Some mentors swear by the pick-and-roll. And then there are coaches like Pido Jarencio, who went playground with the game on the line. Down 82-80, UST turned the clock back to the PBA of the '80s and '90s (right around the time Jarencio played there) and ran an isolation play. The other four Tigers politely stepped aside to the right side of the court, like spectators in a Fight Club scrap. Aljon got the rock and blazed past Andrada for the basket. Sometimes in Basketball it's best not to overthink and just let the players' talent shine. Jarencio obviously understands that, perhaps one reason why his club is the hottest in the league.

Aljon Mariano is the real deal. I called him "superhuman" after he burned Ateneo. Commenters on this blog accused me of speaking too soon. I think after this game he is proving that he is no fluke. The former San Beda Red Cub has the size and athleticism to be a star in this league, and against the Archers he came up large when it mattered most, finishing with 15 points, third on his team behind Karim Abdul's 16 and Tata Bautista's 21.

Karim Abdul made up for his uneven offense with a huge block to seal victory. The Cameroonian scored sixteen but down the stretch repeatedly squandered good looks at the basket. He made up for it with a clutch swat on Andrada with seconds to go.

The Archers lost this game on the line. I was told that La Salle missed fourteen free throws at least. Losing a double overtime game is the crappiest way of driving home the importance of charities. No one felt it worse than Jeron Teng, who outscored his brother (17 to 9) but bludgeoned too many attempts from the stripe. You could tell how shattered he was when he slumped over on the court afterwards, hands on his knees. Many fans would accuse the Archers of cracking under the pressure. But ask any player: it's fatigue that can be blamed for late free throw misses too.

I feel for Coach Gee Abanilla. A few months ago I attended Archers practice to photograph them for the cover of Rebound magazine (it's coming very very soon, by the way.) I met Coach Gee and was struck by how friendly, simple, kind and down-to-earth he was. There was none of the air that you might expect from a coach of a big program. Coach Gee is very approachable and I recall him talking about an exciting prospect he had coming into the team next year. He used the term "kinikilig" to describe how excited he felt.

I misplaced my shades while shooting and Abanilla seemed really concerned. I left the gym but realized that they might be behind one of the goals where I had fixed my camera gear. I came back and found the sunglasses. As I left for the second time he asked me if I had found them and I said yes. He flashed me a smile and a thumbs-up. Gee strikes me as a player's coach, which would be in contrast to the two Pumarens, who were legendary for their taskmaster style. It pains me to see a terrific guy struggle with his team. But that is life as a coach. Nice guys don't always finish first. I hope for his sake that he turns it around.

Josh Webb and Ryan Buenafe mirror each other in some ways. Both were hot rookie prospects. Both started for a significant amount of games. Now in the December of their collegiate careers, they are role players. I wonder how they feel about it.

This season is a bit more unpredictable than we had all expected. Sure, Ateneo is on top, and UE and UP are winless. But FEU was unbeaten until last Thursday, and NU was on a downward spiral until they topped the Tams. I penciled in the Bulldogs as a twice-to-beat team coming into this season, but they have struggled. The gut-check win over FEU keeps them in the hunt. DLSU is below .500, which few expected. One thing is for sure: Season 75 is going to be one heck of a ride.

You can follow Bob Guerrero on Twitter @bhobg333.

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