“You okay, Dave?”
Dave Moralde fielded a pass from JR Gallarza. Moralde took his eye off the ball for a moment and that forced him to field the ball perilously close to the sideline. CEU’s Jason Opiso saw the opportunity and cut off any angle for the UP Fighting Maroon to dribble out of trouble. Moralde lost his balance turning over the ball to CEU.
In the Scorpions' next offensive, Aaron Jeruta hits a wide open three-pointer that breaks a 39-all tie.
As UP brings up the ball, Moralde is still cussing at himself for the turnover. Head coach Rey Madrid calls out, “You okay, Dave? Brush it off. Focus.”
Some time later in the fourth period, Moralde is once more trapped in the very same place where he turned the ball over in the second period. This time the swingman is prepared for the blitz. He wheels out of trouble then stops on a dime at the three-point arc.
The Maroons cut the deficit to four, 65-61, with 2:21 to play.
Madrid points to Moralde who has a bounce in his step as he goes back down on defense.
“JR! Pick yourself up. C’mon!”
At one point in the first period, Gallarza had more points than the entire CEU team combined – 13-11 – with three triples, a medium range jumper, and two free throws.
Because UP doesn’t have a particularly tall line-up, Gallarza is forced to guard the wings where CEU has deployed the crafty Alfred Batiño and the athletic marvel that is Rod Ebondo. Although he finishes the first half with 18 points and three rebounds, Gallarza also picks up three fouls and goes to the bench.
He will only score two more points the rest of the way on top of adding five more boards.
After two consecutive missed shots in the third period, Gallarza hangs his head in dismay. He is whistled for his fourth foul.
“JR! Pick yourself up. C’mon,” yells Madrid from the opposite side of the court. Galarza acknowledges his coach.
With 9.4 seconds left, CEU’s Alvin Abondo has an opportunity to give the Scorpions a four-point lead with two free throws. Abondo muffs both of them. In fact, CEU misses seven free throws in the final 120 seconds of the match that could have put the game away.
UP has not had a taste of the lead since late in the third period after a Kyles Lao bucket makes it, 45-44. Now the Maroons have a window to steal the game and one they richly deserve to win.
UP races up their side of the court. The ball is given to Gallarza who is getting ready to tee up. CEU knows he is not going to pass the ball.
Scorpions’ back up point guard Carlo Casiño gets a hand up that hardly bothers Gallarza’s aim. The shot is straight and true…. Or so it looks.
There’s a little too much spin to the shot. It goes in but rims out and into the hands of Ebondo. CEU celebrates. They are now 3-0 in the tournament while UP slumps to 1-2.
Gallarza cannot contain his emotions as he cries unabashedly on the court.
Madrid hugs his player.
“You put us in a position to win. And sometimes that is all we can ever ask.”
“May timeout pa ba ko? Wala na? Pahingi naman ng timeout.”
UP’s game plan threw off CEU. Completely. The Scorpions scouted the Maroons and saw them play a lot of man-to-man defense.
However, UP threw a zone right at CEU wreaking havoc on their on their offense where they try to get Batiño and Ebondo in the game early. The Scorpions turned the ball over 14 times in the first half yet UP was unable to take advantage of them scoring only six turnover points.
UP played a 2-3 zone on defense with the two men atop being aggressive in their show forcing CEU to chew up more seconds off the shot clock. In fact, CEU is assessed two 24-second shot clock violations and two three-second violations because of the aggressive defense.
On offense, the Maroons parade three shooters around the arc with two others just inside the three-point line. They move the ball around sending CEU scrambling to guard the shooters. The two men inside jab in and out to force the defense to move around. It is perfect and CEU oft scrambles to cover the open man. The Maroons get a lot of points with this simple play.
With four minutes left in the game and CEU up by six, 60-54, Madrid calls his last timeout. They have had problems stopping CEU point guard Alvin Abondo’s incursions where he sets up his teammates (he finishes with eight assists that should have been 13 but his teammates botch several gimmes). They successfully close the lane to Abondo’s drives.
On their offensive end, their play continues to work as Henry Asilum buries back-to-back jumpers over Ebondo who flails away at the air.
The score is now 60-58, CEU with time down to 3:30 in the game clock.
CEU changes their offense with Jeruta now driving from the wings feeding Ebondo who gets a lay-up and a three-point play.
“Meron pa ba akong timeout? Pahingi naman ng timeout? jokes Madrid with the table officials.
No need. Moralde hits a triple to cut the lead down to four and CEU is concerned. Scorpions head coach Edgar Macaraya calls a timeout.
“Yes,” exults Madrid.
“This is where we take this game from them.”
With 1:20 left, Gallarza’s fourth foul sends Alfred Batiño to the line for free throws. He makes one but incredibly Opiso snatches the offensive rebound. After another CEU miss, Opiso manages to grab another crucial offensive board.
Madrid and assistant coaches Ramil Cruz and Poch Juinio collectively put their hands on their hair perplexed that they have given away two more possessions.
But CEU cooperates and they go on to miss more free throws.
As Batiño, Ebondo, and Abundo all troop to the line, Madrid calls over his Gallarza, Lao, and Diego Dario (who would score on a fastbreak lay-up with 10 seconds left).
“This is where we take the game from them.”
UP scores six points to CEU’s three in the final 50 seconds.
As Gallarza pulls up for his potential game winner, Batiño winces, “Huwag, he thinks aloud.
“Oh, no,” thinks Ebondo.
“It’s good,” thinks Madrid.
But the ball rims out.
“Chin up! Chin up!” says Madrid. “We gave it a good fight. Just not our day. Chin up!”
There were tears in Gallarza’s eyes as Henry Asilum came over to console him. But if you looked at the rest of the team’s eyes, they know they nearly had this.
They’ll be back.
In three matches in the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup, the fortunes of the UP Fighting Maroons have gone this way: 78-81 loss to the San Sebastian Stags after leading in the final minute of play; 76-69 win over the College of St. Benilde Blazers after surviving an endgame rally; and a 67-69 loss to Centro Escolar University where JR Gallarza’s three-pointer rims out at the buzzer
This is a good basketball team that is learning to win. Watch out for them.