MANILA, Philippines – This UAAP Season 81 is turning out to be a real unpredictable one. Most thought that the Ateneo Blue Eagles would be lording it over the field, but instead, they have succumbed to two losses. 

Adamson started well and fell in their last game of the first round. The UST Growling Tigers are responsible for two of the biggest upsets in the first round. UE had one of the biggest routs of the season for their only win. And UP flexes its muscles, crashes, gets back up with a streak, and gets knocked down again.

What a season!

And here are some takeaways from the men’s basketball games last October 10 that was upset day as UST felled UP and FEU chopped Ateneo down to size.

UST confirms it is headed in the right direction

Remember when UST even with a small rotation would be so problematic for opposing teams because they arguably had some of the best players in their respective positions (under Pido Jarencio)? They aren’t at that just yet. But in terms of danger — this team isn’t lacking and in spite of the shellacking they got during the summer leagues, we thought that there were signs they would get better. And in the weeks leading up to the UAAP, our thoughts were confirmed. Now the rest of the league knows that you cannot take them lightly.

Without Steve Akomo, they blew the UP Fighting Maroons off the court from the near get-go with daring, terrific in-your-face defense, team play and scalding hot shooting. I think aside from the top play of CJ Cansino and Renzo Subido, a major factor here was the desire of Zach Huang. I’d say he started it with his tough defense and willingness to sacrifice his body to stop the opposing player. He grabbed rebounds he had no business of hauling down and hit big shots. Then Enrique Caunan followed suit. Pretty soon everyone else was at it. 

Say what you will about Aldin Ayo, but there is no denying he is a darn good coach. 

With three wins in seven matches, they have bettered last year’s one-win finish and with one more, will match the win total of the previous seasons under the former head coach (four wins). 

This win over Ateneo says you have to fear FEU

Without Arvin Tolentino, the Tamaraws looked to struggle, and they did early on. After Tab Baldwin pulled out the starters to bring in the bench, they were not able to sustain the energy and defense and they allowed FEU back in the game. Now, they still managed a 10-point lead at the half, but come the second half, they left their game inside the locker room because the Tamaraws came out with renewed energy and played with a chip on their shoulder. 

The win is massive for FEU because that three-game win streak places them in second place (5-2) right behind Adamson (6-1). Ateneo drops to third even at 5-2 because of the win-over-the-other tie breaker. 

The Tams got huge outside shots from Hubert Cani, Axel Iñigo and Wendell Comboy and crucial steals to take this win. 

It looks like that dressing room session of the players after taking it on the chin from UE righted their ship.

For UP and Ateneo, they have to look within at what went wrong

Sure, you cannot win every game. But with losses like this, you have to wonder what happened and then forget it and move on. Either these losses make you better or plant seeds of doubt. 

FEU came in with revenge on their mind to prove that they could beat Ateneo after last year’s semifinals. The Eagles nearly buried the Tamaraws early on — yes, I know no one wins games in the first period, but you can certainly build on that lead — and they stepped off the gas pedal. Furthermore, some players have only provided cameo appearances, but have yet to really show up. First round is done, gents.

UST came in with a heart for ambush and they accomplished that. Whether UP thought that UST would capitulate they only know. But looking at Paul Desiderio’s face during the third period, there was this anger I have not seen. Unfortunately, they couldn’t put UST away.

This will only make for an exciting second round.