UAAP Season 84 was warmly welcomed after two years of no college basketball and, considering the pent up energy and excitement, the last day of the elimination round couldn’t have ended any other way.
The postseason was pretty much decided on the last day of the preliminaries and when the dust settled, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, UP Fighting Maroons, DLSU Green Archers, and the FEU Tamaraws will comprise the cast of characters for the first Final Four since 2018.
For all their dominance over the last five years, the only team that could beat this Ateneo team is Ateneo itself… and well the Fighting Maroons. Undefeated through 13 games, Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin has his team running like a well-oiled machine for most of Season 84. The regular season finale against the Fighting Maroons proved to be their toughest test, and despite them rallying back from an 18-point deficit, they could not get the job done for the 40th consecutive time.
Any Issues they faced or at least those that Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin have mentioned were largely offset with how any of their players could step up at any given time. It was almost the case against UP, but anything that came up in the game will likely be addressed during the film sessions and practices over the next two days.
Meanwhile, the Fighting Maroons are once again the second seed in the Final Four and they are hoping for a scenario similar to Season 81, where UP made the UAAP Finals for the first time since 1986. This time, though, they hope it will end with a championship.
On paper, the Fighting Maroons are the most talented team in the league and they used that to attack the Blue Eagle defense. UP shared the ball, as evidenced by their 19 assists in the victory over Ateneo, and that helped them avoid the trap of falling in love with iso-ball especially with Carl Tamayo having a good showing early on. The win over the Blue Eagles not only gave them confidence heading into their Final Four matchup with the Green Archers, but it also provided some indications as to how they can approach intricate defenses.
After five years (and two seasons) of disappointing exits, La Salle is back in the Final Four. The last time Derick Pumaren made it past the UAAP’s preliminary round, there was no such thing as the Final Four so this is unchartered territory as well for the champion UAAP coach.
The most pressing question for the Green Archers will be addressing an atrocious offense which has lost them more games than they would care to admit. Coupled with DLSU’s perennial free-throw shooting woes, the margin of error becomes razor thin, especially when these struggles douse any momentum.
Much of that was evident in La Salle’s preliminary round finale against the NU Bulldogs, where a late second-half push on Joaqui Manuel’s timely 3-pointers gave the Green Archers a cushion to take a 76-65 win.
Better ball movement and proper execution, among other things, will make DLSU’s postseason more than a one-game stint and that they were able to win despite resting Justine Baltazar and Schonny Winston should in itself be something to boost their confidence.
Meanwhile, the Tamaraws controlled their own destiny by thrashing the UST Growling Tigers and secured themselves a spot in the Final Four for the eighth consecutive season with the Bulldogs’ loss to the Green Archers.
They’ve lived and died by their backcourt of RJ Abarrientos, LJay Gonzales, Xyrus Torres, and Royce Alforque and it’s always been a case of one (or two) or the other. A four-guard lineup would have fared well against La Salle in the stepladder Final Four, but depth would be a greater need especially against a reeling Ateneo squad looking for blood.
The FEU Tamaraws, DLSU Green Archers, UP Fighting Maroons, and the Ateneo Blue Eagles are in the Final Four, but the Blue Eagles remain the overwhelming favorites to win it all and claim their fourth straight UAAP championship. Unlike their last title campaign, however, it looks like a relatively uphill climb on paper and that should make the post-pandemic season even more exciting.