1. Karim Abdul: This guy is the best center in the UAAP. Stats wise, he is way ahead of Greg Slaughter and any other competition. Skill wise, he has a much more diverse skill set; being able to put the ball on the floor, the athleticism to drive around and finish in traffic, an improved mid-range game and the high rate of rebounding and shot blocking makes for a multi-threat nightmare for Ateneo. His defense will be challenged because of Slaughter’s size but he’s proved that he can battle with the giant many times. Look for him to bounce back in Game 2 after an underwhelming performance.
2. Aljon Mariano: A terrific two-way forward, no 4-guy can keep up with him and no 3-guy can deal with his size. UST is at their best when running their offense thru this walking mismatch; he dropped 22-12 and 5 on Ateneo in Game 1. If not for Salva’s 30 points, that game would’ve belonged to Aljon and the rest of the Tigers. This guy can just flat out play basketball. He has the handles of a point guard with the breakdown moves of a scorer in the size of a post guy. This post-perimeter hybrid does not only create scoring opportunities for himself but also for his other teammates. His apparent strength is also the greatest source of his weakness, he cannot guard the more traditional back to the basket guys like Salva in the post. However, his overall skill and talent negates that disadvantage, giving the Tigers’ attack a lot more bite to it.
3. Jeric Teng: Much like Nico Salva, Teng’s game relies a lot on his confidence. 25 points in his first Finals game is not a bad confidence boost. His scoring kept UST in the game until the end (two straight clutch 3’s) and that will carry over unto Game 2 for sure. Even if he’s missed 20 shots in a row, you can bet that this guy is going to take the biggest shots in the end for UST. He’s never afraid to chuck it up there and more often than not, it ends with him whipping out those pistols of his.
4. Pido Jarencio: With his choice comments about the game and the officiating, Coach Jarencio has drawn the ire of the Atenean community. But like the crafty veteran that he is, I’m sure that he’s spinning this right now as motivation for his team to steal Game 2 and maybe the championship. This guy is very confident in his team and in what they can do and as they’ve done all season long, they’re looking to stage the biggest comeback of their careers.
5. 2006: Back in 06, Ateneo won Game 1 in amazing fashion after a close game throughout. This year’s Game 1 was no different. UST is hoping that the script is going to repeat itself, pulling the rug out under Ateneo to steal Game 2 and take their chances in Game 3. 06 was a banner year for UST where they made the Final Four as the last seed and upset the top seed in the Finals. It’s the classic case of Destiny vs. Dynasty.
X-Factor: Progressive Fatigue and Bench Depth: Coach Jarencio has basically used a 7-8 man lineup the whole season with the starters logging in heavy minutes. Will this huge demand take its toll on UST right when they need strength the most? Is Coach Pido willing to dig deep in his bench to give his starters some key minutes off? The lack of apparent bench depth has been UST’s bane this season. Now with Melo Afuang out, they have been forced to play Mariano more (he cramped up at the end of Game 1) and even Ferrer had time as a 4 guy. Afuang may not be a huge contributor stats wise but his presence as a capable backup and his toughness was missed by the Tigers in the last game.
Last Thoughts: UST’s combo of post-perimeter hybrid players in Mariano and Ferrer has given them a distinct advantage in quickness inside and length outside. This was very apparent with Ferrer shutting down Ravena in the first half and Mariano wreaking havoc on Ateneo’s defense. What was most lacking was contributions from seniors Jeric Fortuna and Clark Bautista. With UST’s frontline trying its best to negate Ateneo’s advantage inside, UST wasn’t able to squeeze anything from their two lead guards. With their UAAP careers on the line, Jeric and Tata are sure to bounce back in Game 2.