Against UP depth, Ateneo searches for ‘counters’

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Ateneo will look to provide a dominant Ange Kouame (left) more support in the title series. —UAAP MEDIA

Ateneo will look to provide a dominant Ange Kouame (left) more support in the title series. —UAAP MEDIA

Glancing at the depth chart of the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons, there’s no denying the manpower advantage they wield over the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

That became strikingly apparent in the opener of their UAAP Season 85 championship series on Sunday where the Maroons wore down their rivals with the quality of the men UP coach Goldwyn Monteverde dispatched on the floor.

Springy forward Zavier Lucero and cold-blooded two-guard Harold Alarcon were the ultimate heroes in the 72-66 win with Lucero’s pair of blocks and two huge threes by Alarcon securing them the edge going into Wednesday’s Game 2.

These two form an integral part of UP’s reliable cast that includes season Most Valuable Player front-runner Malick Diouf, pivotman Carl Tamayo, point guard JD Cagulangan and a fleet of sturdy and effective backcourt personnel in Cyril Gonzales, Terrence Fortea, Gerry Abadiano and James Spencer.

Crucial swat

“You know, all of us have the responsibility of going in there and giving our best every single moment we’re on the floor whether it’s [a] second or 30 minutes,’’ said Lucero after his block on a driving Chris Koon prevented the Blue Eagles from equalizing and shifted the game’s momentum.

“For me, I’m just trying to do that. It’s been what I’ve been trying to do throughout my whole career, not just here,’’ added the 6-foot-7 graduating forward who put an end to Ateneo’s fightback by swatting Ange Kouame’s attempt underneath with only 32 seconds remaining.

And don’t forget hulking forward Henry Galinato, whose role underneath has become more than just a reliever to the banged up trio of Diouf, Tamayo and Lucero. He might as well be a starter in any UAAP team.

It’s a downright solid 10-man rotation for the Maroons in their bid to repeat as champions following UP’s conquest of Ateneo in the previous season last May that ended a 36-year title wait.

But Monteverde would rather not beat the drum just yet in their quest to carve history as the only team to capture two UAAP titles in a single year.

“Going toward the game, we knew the kind of team that we will face. It’s a team [that doesn’t give you the chance] to relax. We’ve been talking about it that we should really play good defense,’’ said Monteverde.

Defensive pressure

“There were times that we suffered from lapses, but the good thing about it was they would always communicate … and correct these mistakes,’’ added Monteverde.

Meanwhile, the Blue Eagles will look to solve the defensive pressure from UP as they try to force a winner-take-all.

Kouame continues to become a menacing force in the paint, but must get the support that the 6-foot-10 center needs around the rim from Kai Ballungay, who wound up scoreless in Game 1, and backup big man Geo Chiu.

“Execution during the whole game was difficult because the pressure from UP was very good,’’ said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin, who won three consecutive titles for the Blue Eagles in their five previous championship appearances.

“We certainly have to figure out ways to compensate for the pressure that they have. I’ve talked about it before,’’ added Baldwin.

Forthsky Padrigao suffered an ankle sprain late in the third quarter, leaving second-string guard Vince Gomez to run the team. “When they have those six guards who are able to generate that kind of template for a game defensively, you’ve got to find counters,’’ added Baldwin. “We thought we had some, but we need more.’’ INQ

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