Sometimes the worst teams bring out the best in each other. If you brought an alien from outer space to watch this game, he might think that it was between two title contenders, not two winless clubs. The Falcons and Maroons went at each other hammer and tongs last Sunday, playing Final-Four intensity defense and pushing hard on every play. Neither of these proud clubs wanted to languish at the bottom of the table after this game, and it showed. The game was played in the MOA Arena but it might as well have been conducted in a barangay court. It had a freewheeling, playground vibe that the sparse crowd surely loved.
Even in the bottom two UAAP clubs, there is some serious young talent. It was Jericho Cruz's breakout game as he towed all Adamson scorers (with Eric Camson) with 19 markers. Cruz, who was raised in Saipan, is a master improviser who employs a supersonic first step speed and a dizzying array of feints and moves to weasel past defenders. He was also perfect from the line and bagged four rebounds. Coach Leo Austria would do well to build a team around him. UP trotted out rookie Henry Asilum in the third quarter and he bloodlessly drained two long jumpers. Chris Ball had a terrific outing for the Maroons, showing good mobility and finishing.
While the kids impressed, the stars mailed it in. Alex Nuyles started hot with nine points in the first quarter then displayed a disappearing act that would have made Houdini proud. UP's Mike Silungan scored his first field goal deep in the second half. If these guys plan on salvaging the season for their respective clubs, they better start delivering when it matters.
Is Rodney Brondial Adamson's Swiss Army Knife? I seem to recall the headbanded Falcon playing the point guard position in the first half, and playing the position well. In the second half he could be found clogging the lane as the center in Adamson's 2-3 zone. If there is any other player in Pinoy college hoops who can morph from a 1 to a 5 in one game then I'd sure like to meet him.
Watch out for Hack-A-Camson. Eric Camson's futility from the fifteen-foot line was excruciating to watch. He coaxed his first attempt of the game into the hoop then clanged the next six. Camson scored nineteen but his free throw shooting nightmare must have produced at least a dozen white hairs on Austria's head. Big time players have to knock those down in the close games.
UP could not have played the last possession worse if they tried it all day. Mark Lopez had a sensational game for the Maroons, showing energy on defense with four steals and chipping in seventeen points. But he still takes partial responsibility for UP's calamitous decision-making and execution on the last play. Down 69-67 the Maroons had time to set up a good shot, but not all day. Lopez held the ball forever yards out from the three-point arc. Eventually the ball was fed to Alvin Padilla for a desperation heave with time running out. It never really had a chance. Why UP didn't drive into the shaded area and perhaps fish for a foul was beyond me. An earlier basket might have given them a chance for a rebound and a second look. To be honest, UP played the last seconds so cavalierly that it appeared they thought the game was tied and they wanted a last shot to avoid overtime. Basketball is a forty minute game, and you have to play smart until the last buzzer. UP showed great character in rallying from 20 points down but their hoops IQ deserted them at the last moment. That's why they are once again holding up the UAAP table at 0-3. It doesn't get easier for the Maroons. On Thursday they duke it out with Ateneo.
The Mall of Asia Arena makes watching Basketball wonderful both live and on TV. The great thing about this new arena is that it's incredibly well-lit. Photographers love it because the shots come out sharper with more detail. The difference shows on TV as well. Games have this NBA-like look about them that is pretty neat. I hope that the Smart Araneta Coliseum follows suit and sticks in a few more high-intensity bulbs.
Follow Bob Guerrero on Twitter @bhobg333.