Just a few months removed from helping the UP Fighting Maroons win their first UAAP title in 25 years, Carl Tamayo picked up where he left off and led the reigning champions to a 72-69 opening day win over the DLSU Green Archers.
Tamayo put up 18 points, 19 rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 31 minutes and looked supremely confident in his first UAAP game as a sophomore. He was eager to take over in the dying minutes of the match, similar to what he did in last season’s Final Four where his clutch performance eliminated this same La Salle team.
After spending some of his time in the offseason with the Gilas Pilipinas team, the UAAP Season 84 Rookie of the Year looks primed to make a run at this year’s Most Valuable Player award. He looks much quicker and stronger than he did last year while he has continued to widen his offensive arsenal.
Like in their previous meeting, UP had to come from behind to take the win and trailed by as much as 10 points in the second quarter. They only managed to reclaim the lead, 60-57, with six minutes left in the fourth period following a three-point play from Brix Ramos. The Fighting Maroons led by six with 16 seconds left, but were threatened by a late five-point burst from DLSU.
Two free throws by Tamayo with four seconds left in the match brought their lead back up to three points. The Green Archers had one last chance to force overtime, but starting point guard Evan Nelle lost control of the ball right before the buzzer as he was racing down the court for one final attempt.
What made UP’s victory even more impressive was that they did it without last season’s championship hero JD Cagulangan who was out with a short-term injury. Reserve guard Terrence Fortea stepped up in his absence and finished with 15 points, five rebounds, nine assists, and one steal.
The rest of the Fighting Maroons chipped in as well. Malick Diouf added nine points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks, James Spencer contributed eight points and four rebounds, and last year’s Mythical Team member Zavier Lucero had seven points and four rebounds.
The defense of UP’s imposing frontcourt, one of the foundations of last season’s title run, was influential in spoiling the UAAP debut of La Salle’s prized recruit Kevin Quiambao. The 6’4 forward missed his first 10 shots and managed to make only two out of his 13 field goal attempts during the contest.
The rest of DLSU was also bothered by the Fighting Maroons’ defense as they shot only 31.8% during the afternoon. Schonny Winston was the sole bright spot for the Green Archers with 27 points on 12-of-18 shooting, two rebounds, two assists, three steals, and a block.
It is clear that UP has a strong chance to repeat as champions this season even if they will have to make do without the services of the graduating Ricci Rivero and injured guard CJ Cansino. The ball-dominant Rivero’s absence will ultimately accelerate the development of this team since it inevitably opens up more opportunities for the remaining players, particularly Tamayo.
These two teams have kicked off the new UAAP season with a bang and it will not come as a surprise if they meet again in the Final Four or even the Finals. UP looks determined to defend their title, but this La Salle team is too talented not to put up a fight and last year’s runner-up, the ADMU Blue Eagles, remain a formidable threat under the guidance of their superstar head coach Tab Baldwin.