Last Saturday, September 5, the UAAP officially opened its much-awaited 78th season at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum bearing this year's theme: Tumitindig, Sumusulong (Rising, Moving Forward). This season's host, the University of the Philippines, put on a show as they tapped the services of their cheerleading powerhouse, The UP Pep Squad. The cheer-team led the colorful, Pinoy-themed opening festivities.
After the dazzling opening display, UAAP fans were immediately treated with two awesome matches in which host university UP Fighting Maroons notched a historic W against the University of the East Red Warriors, 62-55; and University of Santo Tomas showed their mettle against Adamson Soaring Falcons, 70-64.
On Sunday, September 6, the "animo" community got mini heart attacks as Jeron Teng and the rest of the De La Salle Green Archers barely survived against the defending champions National University Bulldogs, 67-63. In the second match of the night, the Ateneo Blue Eagles never found their rhythm as they lost to last year's runner-ups, the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 88-64.
These are the first few games of the season, and we're obviously dripping with excitement. Here are some of our key takeaways from that weekend of epic college hoops.
WHIPPING BOYS NO MORE? UP FIGHTING MAROONS ARE ON TOP OF THE UAAP STANDINGS... FOR NOW
Let's admit it: The boys of Diliman have been on the bad end of UAAP jokes for quite some time now, thanks to their string of dismal performances in the men's basketball division. They only won two games over the course of three seasons, and suffered a record-setting 27-game losing streak in that span.
This season though, it looks like rookie coach Rensy Bajar might have found the right equation to put the Maroons back on the right track after debuting with a win against the UE Red Warriors. Can they keep it up?
Despite UE's comeback surge, the Maroons kept their opponents at bay after a surprise performance from forward Gelo Vito and his three consecutive three-point bombs.
CAN THEY SUSTAIN IT?
Was it just beginner's luck for Coach Bajar? Is it merely the rule of averages ruling in favor of UP in this outing? Moreover, where's the celebratory bonfire?
It's great that they got the W, but they've still got a few questions to answer. With main gunners Kyles Lao and Mikee Reyes out of the line-up, who will be UP's main core? Will sophomore guard Diego Dario live up to expectations? He came out impressively during the Filsports Basketball Association championship but was just limited to six points in his UP debut.
RED WARRIORS' CHRIS JAVIER CAN OWN THIS SEASON
The Red Warriors are hoping their new chief, senior big man Chris Javier, can lead them back to contention.
A center with range, Javier posted a neat double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in a losing effort. That's still a good sign. Moving forward into the season, Chris will find himself as the go-to guy on offense, inside and out. He can hit the big shots too as he's proven with buzzer-beaters against ADMU and UP back in 2012.
THE FEU TAMARAWS ARE NOT MISSING TERRENCE ROMEO. NOT ONE BIT.
Entering the season with returning key players such as big man Mark Belo, do-it-all Mike Tolomia, and spark plug Roger Pugoy, the FEU Tamaraws are still considered as one of the main contenders. Their pummeling of the Katipunan boys is early proof.
Pugoy led the scoring with 19 points, while Tolomia and Belo scored 17 and 16 points, respectively. If all three of them can keep playing this sharp all season, Terrence Romeo and his Twitter-happy fingers will be happy all year long.
Which leads us to...
BATI NA SILA!
Image via UAAP-NCAA Memes' Facebook page
Image via UAAP-NCAA Memes' Facebook page
Looks like the bro-war has turned into a bro-mance.
THE BLUE EAGLES HAVE A LOGJAM OF (TALENTED) GUARDS
On paper, the Blue Eagles might have the most talented and scariest guard line-up this season. Aside from Ravena, ADMU now has the services of two-time UAAP Juniors MVP Jerie Pingoy and prized recruit Hubert Cani. Again, that's on paper.
On the court? Not yet. Coach Bo Perasol has 13 games remaining to make it work.
During their disappointing opener against FEU, both Pingoy and Cani looked lost while they were on the court, with the former scoring just two points, and the latter laying an egg. Ravena carried much of the scoring that day with 25 points.
So what's the problem? Here's our hunch: All three of them—Ravena, Pingoy, and Cani—have been groomed as their team's alpha and are used to playing the game with the ball in their hands. It showed. They had too many one-on-one plays, and resorted to ill-advised long bombs.
Being the King Eagle and his team's proven leader, Kiefer will dominate the ball for as long as the season goes, meaning both Cani and Pingoy must learn how to play off the ball. They will still find their touches, but The Phenom will still get the bulk of it.
If Coach Bo can find the right chemistry with his three-headed monster, we'll be seeing a bonfire getting lit in Katipunan soon.
GREEN ARCHERS' JASON PERKINS HAS TAKEN A PAGE OUT OF LEBRON AND CARMELO'S BOOK
DLSU's forward is looking slimmer. According to a report from Rappler.com, the bruising forward lost 20 pounds, hoping it'll make him quicker and more agile. It has paid off as he finished with 13 points to go with 12 boards, and those clutch free throws to seal the game in the end.
THE DEFENDING CHAMPS ARE CAPABLE OF A BACK-TO-BACK
They might have lost their first game as this season's defending champs, but that doesn't mean the NU Bulldogs have lost their bite. It took them a few quarters to bare their fangs, but once they did, Jeron and company were in trouble. It took everything for the Archers to survive the game, 67-63, including a game-saving off-balanced jumper courtesy of Teng.
Even with the loss, they pretty much announced to the league that they are still the front-runners for this year's championship. They fought back a 15-point second half deficit and dictated the pace for almost the whole fourth quarter.
Bulldog main man Gelo Alolino led NU with 16 points and six boards. He also earned his first-ever technical foul over his five-year UAAP playing career.
CAN THIS SEASON BE THE SWAN SONG FOR THE UST VETERANS?
Just like FEU, the UST Growling Tigers are entering this season with their core intact. They still have key players such as Karim Abdul, Kent Lao, Ed Daquioag, and Kevin Ferrer. Their familiarity and experience will definitely be a huge advantage over the other teams this season.
All of their holdover veterans have been in the UAAP Finals, twice. And with Ferrer and Daquioag finding their range after exploding for a combined 52 points against the Adamson Falcons, looks like Abdul won't need to go beast-mode for now.
ATENEO'S COURTSIDE REPORTER LAURA LEHMANN LOOKS GOOD IN A POLO SHIRT
She's the only reason we're not switching channels during halftime.