by rick olivares
“It’s not how you start but how you finish.”
It’s an ages old sports truism but it’s one that University of the East head coach Boycie Zamar reminded his players. They started out flat but finished the half strong. They came out of the third looking flat once more yet, the Red Warriors did the unthinkable by bushwhacking the hitherto undefeated National University Bulldogs, 81-68, in the finals of the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup to win their first major domestic tournament in five years.
Moreover, it sends a strong message to the rest of the UAAP that they will not accept being in the cellar anymore and that they will be a force to contend with.
At the start of the match, it looked like the finals would be a droll one as NU raced to a 12-3 lead. It wasn’t as if the Bulldogs’ defense wasn’t great, the Red Warriors kept shooting themselves in the foot with poor shooting from the field and the line to go with three consecutive turnovers.
After UE center Charles Mammie threw the ball away on a fastbreak attempt, coach Boycie Zamar shot him an angry look. Point guard Roi Sumang pulled the Sierra Leone native’s jersey and told him if the opportunity for a fastbreak wasn’t there then he should give the ball to the guards for them to bring the rock down.
Zamar motioned with his hands to settle down.
In the next play, Mammie scored on a putback while picking up a foul from Jean Mbe. Mammie made good on the bonus shot to cut down the lead, 12-6.
A missed NU offensive, Mammie hauled down the board, whirled and spotted swingman firestarter Ralf Olivarez for a long strike and a bucket. Sumang looked and pointed to Mammie to say, “well done.”
The Bulldogs weren’t fazed. They had steamrolled every opponent in two leagues and looked to make history by winning both the Fr. Martin’s Cup and the Filoil Cup en route to UAAP Season 76 where they are firmly favorites to win it all.
Power forward Troy Rosario took a drop pass from Ray Parks, whirled around and in one motion, slammed dunked the ball in front of a bunch of Warriors. The NU bench jumped up and down in celebration. It was 16-10 at that point.
NU’s execution was near flawless. They had two shooters at both corners at any given time. They also had one stationed somewhere along the arc. They posted up either Mbe or Alfred Aroga, the newly minted Gatorade Best Defensive Player of the tournament with Ray Parks driving in to create.
A Robin Roño drive and kick out saw frosh JJ Alejandro drill a triple from the right corner pocket, 19-16.
The score was close because UE repeatedly kept attacking the interior. Heading into the match, UE averaged 26 free throw attempts per game. In this title match, they were awarded 37 attempts from the stripe while making 22.
While Parks was unstoppable in his drives, NU faced two similar threats from Sumang and Gino Jumao-as, the former San Sebastian Staglets star who red-shirted for one year.
With Jay-R Sumido not bringing in his A-game, Jumao-as played a terrific supporting role by tallying eight points, three rebounds, and three assists. He drove hard and strong. He went at Aroga then wrapped around a pass for Mammie who scored.
A few weeks ago, Zamar pulled Jumao-as out of the game after being on the floor for a minute. The rookie was upset and he furiously pulled out his jersey much to the chagrin of Zamar who bawled him out on the bench.
Last night, after defeating NU, Zamar introduced Jumao-as to his former Red Warriors player now-turned PBA pro, Niño Canaleta. “Ito si Gino…. bagong poster boy ng UE.” And the entire locker room erupted into cheers.
Cheers. After Jumao-as drove and passed to center Chris Javier (who flubbed his shot), swingman Lord Casajeros walked over to the rookie and told him he was open. With seven seconds left to play, Casajeros found the ball (from Sumang) darting towards him from the right corner. He fired a triple that was all net, 36-30, now UE.
Although Parks scored the last basket of the half, UE had gotten their game going.
They felt flat once more to start the third but they found their verve when Ralf Olivarez came in. He blocked a Gelo Alolino drive. Stole the ball from Alolino then scored on Aroga (who looked out of the game). Olivarez’ triple to start the fourth period saw what was once a nine-point lead, now whittled down to five, 55-50.
After Casajeros jumped over everyone for an offensive tip-in and a foul shot, the score was tied at 57-all. Mammie scored on a putback a few seconds later for the lead; one they would not surrender as NU came undone.
With UE taking the fight to them, NU, so composed for the entire summer, got rattled. At one point, they even played with two point guards at the same time to stabilize their game but it didn’t work.
After Ray Parks was whistled for this fifth and final foul for reaching in an Olivarez drive (he was soon followed by Mbe), it was all over save for the final score as the Bulldogs crumbled in the endgame.
In the game’s final 14 minutes and change, UE dumped 40 points on the Bulldogs who without Parks and Mbe (and Aroga in the midst of a subpar game) managed only 18.
With less than five minutes to play, Troy Rosario pulled down a defensive rebound. Olivarez came in from the blindside and wrenched the ball – and ultimately the championship – away and scored on an undergoal stab for a 65-58 lead.
Sumang was dazzling as he twisted his guards into pretzels with some nasty crossovers for jumpers.
That UE won is a surprise for many but the manner in which they won with Charles Mammie outplaying both Mbe and Aroga (10 points and 21 rebounds versus a collective 10 a d 14 for NU’s Africans), with Casajeros raining jumpers from everywhere, with Jumao-as playing his best game so far in a Red Warriors jersey, and with Olivarez coming up huge off the bench (he led UE with 19 points, eight rebounds, two steals and one block) says volumes (when Chris Javier, Jay-R Sumido, JM Noble, and Adrian Santos not at their best).
When the final buzzer rang and the score pegged at 81-68 the UE bench celebrated. “Even when you are at number seven there is pressure,” said Zamar after the game. “We are UE. We did not win all those championships before for nothing. We are trying to bring back that winning tradition. This is just the pre-season. As far as we are concerned, we are still number seven. Winning the Filoil, yes, we might be favorites but there is pressure. We'd rather have the pressure up there. But the others aren’t coming for us. We are coming for them.”
The once and future Warrior King has spoken.
UE 81 – Olivarez 19, Sumang 18, Casajeros 16, Mammie 10, Jumao-as 8, Javier 6, Noble 2, Hernandez 2, Santos 0, Sumido 0, Guion 0, Flores 0.
NU 68 – Parks 23, Alolino 12, Mbe 7, Villamor 6, Javillionar 5, Rosario 5, Aroga 5, Alejandro 3, Roño 2, Neypes 0, De Guzman 0.
I want to thank UE for granting access to the team. Over the years, I've had some terrific access to sports teams (Gilas and the Azkals are tops but NU - most especially - Adamson, Letran, Perpetual Help, San Sebastian, and of course, Ateneo, have been tops. You can throw Alaska in there as well. Hopefully, we can really follow UE this season.
Inside the UE dugout post-championship match, coach Boycie Zamar mentioned me in his post-game speech. I was such a dunce wearing an Ateneo shirt inside the red locker room. When I left the house, I just put on the first shirt I grabbed off my shirt rack not thinking of what was in store for the day. Coach was hilarious, "Taga-Ateneo si Rick, pero UE din yan." The team looked puzzled. "University of Eagles." The Red Warriors cheered. Check out the vid.
Thanks, guys. Thanks. Good luck this coming season.