For great teams, winning a championship doesn’t end when the title is clinched. Those that chase greatness know that the best championship is the next one and perhaps, even the one after that.
The UP Fighting Maroons, fresh off their first UAAP championship in 35 years, are currently atop the league in Season 85, with all signs pointing to them securing back-to-back titles. In nine games this season, the Fighting Maroons have had cardiac finishes mixed in with some statement wins both in dominant and close fashion.
UP’s lone loss thus far in UAAP Season 85 came in the first round against the NU Bulldogs, but the Fighting Maroons have pretty much put that behind them after blowing out the Bulldogs to open the second round.
In UP’s most recent win against the AdU Soaring Falcons, with whom they figured in some classic matches over the last few seasons, a strong second half was needed to fend off the Soaring Falcons. Thanks to a balanced scoring effort (nine of the 12 players who entered the court scored at least a point), the Fighting Maroons’ fifth-straight win allowed them to pull away with the victory, solidifying their spot at the top of the standings at 8-1.
Numbers have shown that UP has one of the best offenses in UAAP, as they are the highest scoring team in the league (78.8 points per game) with the best shooting percentages from the field (41.8 percent) and on 2-pointers (49.0 percent). Moreover, the Fighting Maroons get to the free throw line more than any other team, averaging 24.0 attempts per game and converting on 67.6 percent of those attempts.
Part of UP’s offensive success naturally comes with having a talented roster, but a large portion of it also comes from how Fighting Maroons head coach Goldwin Monteverde has found ways to get his players open. Whether it be through cuts to the basket or open shots that further space the floor, this allows the likes of Carl Tamayo, James Spencer, and Zavier Lucero to operate. The ensuing openings they create also lead to easy baskets for the likes of Malick Diouf and Henry Galinato, who tend to finish possessions with brute force.
Defensively, UP has been able to distance themselves from their opponents by taking them out of their elements. Opposing teams struggle from behind the 3-point line (a UAAP-low 23.7 percent from behind the 3-point line) and teams commit the second-most turnovers in the league (19.8 per game) when playing against the Fighting Maroons. Stacked squads would likely have a fighting chance against UP, as the Fighting Maroons are the second-best team in limiting the offensive production of their opponents’ starters.
Overall, UP remains the favorite to come out on top of Season 85, especially since they have weathered the storms they’ve faced thus far. Various Fighting Maroons have answered the bell in particular games, and it does seem that the only one who can stop UP would be themselves. Complacency will then be their toughest opponent, but given how Monterverde and the rest of the Fighting Maroons coaching staff have handled the team over the last few years, it seems to be something they have handled thus far.
Regardless if they win it all this year, UP will reload with a steady stream of recruits. The management of the Fighting Maroons have been recruiting with an agenda in mind and not just for the sake of acquiring talent. Skills are obviously well and good, but if they won’t mesh well with what Monteverde wants to implement, then it won’t translate into championship success. After all, Monteverde won it all in his first season with UP, so that in itself adds credibility to what he has put forward.
Too much is never enough when the likes of the DLSU Green Archers and ADMU Blue Eagles are chasing UAAP championships and the UP Fighting Maroons are on the verge of entering that conversation, more so when they secure another title this season. Things are so far trending in that direction, but a championship is not won on paper nor in the preliminaries; it’s earned by consistent effort from start to finish.