Being winless flat-out sucks. All the efforts teams put in during practice and games only to end up with loss after loss certainly has its effects on the morale and psyche of a squad. At times, these losses have wider-reaching effects, as prospective players would rather go to a winning program with stability.
For the UE Red Warriors, this prolonged futility led to a long quest in a search for answers that has gone on for more than a decade. In fact, the Red Warriors haven’t appeared in the UAAP Final Four since 2009, the same year they went to the UAAP Season 72 Finals behind the efforts of Paul Lee and Elmer Espiritu. Some would see it as a fall from grace for a UE program that has won the second-most UAAP Men’s Basketball championships (18) and holds the record for most consecutive titles (7) and finals appearances (15).
This current iteration of the Red Warriors is a far cry from the 2009 team, both in experience and in age. Among all the squads in Season 84, UE is perhaps the squad with both the youngest and inexperienced roster. More than half of the Red Warriors’ players are rookies or first-year players, with Harvey Pagsanjan, who is currently UAAP’s second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, now emerging as the team’s leader.
Unfortunately, the tough hill UE has had to climb was reflected in the 11 losses through 11 games so far in Season 84. Making matters worse is the fact that they continue to be without Red Warriors Jack Santiago, who was suspended for two games for “conduct unbecoming of a head coach” and remains away from the team as UE completes its internal investigation.
Despite all the disappointments and setbacks so far, it’s not exactly a lost season for the Red Warriors.
They nearly got their first win of the season against the DLSU Green Archers, sending the game into overtime before falling in a 85-82 loss. UE nearly pulled off an upset against one of the UAAP’s best defenses by more spacing in drawing La Salle’s big men out, creating open shots from driving lanes and 3-pointers off defensive breakdowns.
The Red Warriors could not capitalize on a strong shooting night from behind the 3-point line after being outrebounded 68-41, with 48 of the Green Archers’ rebounds coming from Justin Baltazar and Michael Phillips. The rebounding disparity allowed DLSU to score 36 second chance points, more than five times what UE had for the game (7).
That loss certainly took a lot out of them as they were blown out by the FEU Tamaraws in their next game. Again it was a huge disparity in rebounds and second chance points that spelled doom for the Red Warriors in that game. Moreover, a strong 3-point shooting night from the Tamaraws did not do UE any favors, as the Red Warriors never led in the contest.
As a team playing with their backs against the wall for much of the season, UE’s offense has been much better when they try to draw out rim protectors, create mismatches, and force defensive breakdowns. Against FEU, they had a 16-9 advantage from points off turnovers and against La Salle, they managed to break the vaunted Pumaren press with timely passes and making the right reads offensively. The latter, which has helped them stay close in some games, largely comes from the schemes both Santiago and interim Red Warriors head coach Jamike Jarin have placed during the offseason.
Ball security has to be another priority for UE as they have averaged 19.0 turnovers in their last two games. With the Red Warriors being sorely outrebounded on a nightly basis, coughing the ball up will further reduce the number of possessions they can score on.
Defensively, a more team-oriented scheme would bode well for UE as they try to compensate for the lack of height. Whereas the Red Warriors look to create more space on offense, they should continue to clog the paint against their heftier opponents while also ensuring their defensive rotations won’t lead to breakdowns from behind the 3-point line.
Wins have been hard to come by for the UE Red Warriors so far in UAAP Season 84, but the gains from what others would describe as a lost season should help them make strides in the coming years. It’s too early to tell if there’s already a light at the end of the tunnel, but the Red Warriors have slowly laid down the steps to future success.