The Games that Play Us: FORTUNAte UST

Jeric Fortuna led the Tigers to their opening win in Season 74.
(image by Jerome Ascano/NPPA Images)

UST Growling Tigers over NU Bulldogs, 73-72 (OT)

This isn’t exactly how NU wanted to start what many believed to be their breakout season. The Bulldogs were tagged as Final Four dark horses, perhaps even shoe-ins by some observers. But judging by the way they played UST this afternoon? I doubt they’ll go that far.

On many levels, the Growling Tigers were supposed to be the perfect prey for the Bulldogs. UST isn’t really known for suffocating defense nor interior defense, so NU, armed with great scoring talent, should’ve been able to puncture the hoop with great frequency.

Bobby Ray Parks wasn't able to dominate as expected.
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That didn’t happen. Instead, they shot just 40%, which would’ve been lower had bench player Denice (or Dennice? What an unusual name!!!) not lit up the tally with his hot hands. The projected power pairing of Emmanuel Mbe and Bobby Ray Parks should’ve dominated against the likes of Paulo Pe, Melo Afuang, and Chris Camus, but the NU duo combined for just 9-of-28 shooting from the field (they missed a total of 24 attempts, including free-throws).

If Henry Sy’s young squad is to fulfill the promise of their billing, then this encounter with UST should not be a template for future battles. They did limit UST to just 23.6% from downtown and a mind-boggling 11.1% from the stripe, but they allowed the Tigers to grab 7 more offensive rebounds, get 6 more steals, attempt 18 more field goals, and force 9 more turnovers from the Bulldogs.

Perhaps the weight of preseason hype might have weighed heavily on NU. This was a team that caught a break with the UAAP Board clearing Parks to play alongside last season’s almost-MVP (Mbe),  a team that lured two former UST Juniors standouts (Cederick Labing-isa & Kyle Neypes, who did not play), and a team that has a top-notch coach in Eric Altamirano. A recipe for success in the UAAP? Should be, but if this game is any indication, marami pang kakaining bigas ang NU (NU will have to “eat more rice” – mature a lot more).

And as for UST? Despite all the changes and new names, it’s the same team. They run all over the place. They shoot from all over the metropolis. They don’t look organized on either end of the floor. But somehow they’ve learned to translate all that craziness into an advantage. This is a bit of a hyperbole, but how can any team prepare for an opponent that doesn’t even know what the hell it’s doing? Pretty canny of coach Pido if you ask me.

Jeric Fortuna proved to be difference-maker in the game.
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Coach Pido’s trump card? Former Junior Archer Jeric Fortuna. Much like his coach, Fortuna likes to jack it up from the Exit Gates, and, like his coach, he has a tendency to make the big shots. He scored 19 of his 23 in the second half, including the trifecta that tied the game in regulation’s end, and 4 more points in the extra period. FORTUNAte indeed.

So what to make of all this? It appears NU has to find a way to play with Parks getting shadowed for most of the game, or even when he has an off-day (this was definitely an off-day). I doubt Villamor can score 19 markers in most games, and Mbe won’t be able to do everything himself (he’s good, but he’s no Sam Ekwe). On the other side, UST should continue playing the way they play – it kinda plays to the strengths of their players, though it’s not exactly the conventional way of getting a Final Four slot or winning a UAAP title (2006 was an exception of course). Like a boxer who blindly throws haymakers every 5 seconds, UST will be perennially dangerous, but will ultimately pose no serious threat (does that even makes sense?).

UST 73 – Fortuna 23, Ferrer 12, Camus 10, Teng 9, Afuang 6, Abdul 5, Pe 4, Vigil 2, Sheriff 2, Lao 0, Tan 0, Ungria 0
NU 72 – Villamor 19, Parks 16, Mbe 13, Khobuntin 8, Javillonar 5, Ignacio 4, Labing-isa 3, Alolino 2, Magat 2, Celiz 0, Singh 0, Terso 0
QS: 17-14, 31-33, 44-44, 65-65, 73-72 (OT)

Chris Camus led UST to an 8-0 start in the game.
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Kevin Ferrer finished with a double-double for UST.
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Emmanuel Mbe has a couple of flushes for the Bulldogs.
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Click on this link for the Game's Highlights: NU vs UST Season 74 Round 1
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