University of the East coach Derrick Pumaren felt he has seen a different kind of Red Warriors in the course of their 66-72 loss to the National U Bulldogs on Wednesday as their UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball title campaign got off on the wrong foot.
UE, visibly dealing with opening game jitters, endured a sluggish start, trailing by as many as 10 points twice in the first three minutes then ran out of steam in the last 100 seconds, allowing National U to escape with the victory and join opening day winners Adamson and Ateneo on the early lead.
“It’s a different team that showed up today,” lamented Pumaren at the at the Mall of Asia Arena lobby. “I told them that there’s no doubt in my mind that the team I see everyday is a Final Four team. The team that showed up today is a lot different.”
Sophomore guard Bonbon Batiller tallied a game-high 18 points, 12 of them coming in the first 20 minutes, but he and the rest of the Red Warriors struggled from the field, missing 55 of their 78 attempts, 41 of them in the second half, to finish with a horrendous 29.49 percent clip.
“Hindi lang rin namin ma-convert ‘yung mga tira namin,” said Batiller, who helped UE recover from that slow start by firing away eight points in the first frame.
Making matters worse for UE, NU’s Cameroon import Alfred Aroga asserted himself in the final canto where he fired 10 of his 16 markers, including a clutch lay-up for a 69-66 lead with 1:19 left to play.
Batiller couldn’t stress hard enough how tough their task of slowing down Aroga was. “Hindi namin ma-stop si Aroga sa depensa,” he said.
“Para sa amin, hindi namin iniisip ‘yun. Kahit wala kaming import, alam namin na kaya namin,” added Batiller.
Pumaren admitted he still sees some positive signs among the Red Warriors which could help them get back on track against host University of Santo Tomas on Saturday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
“I told the team that inspire of the way we played, we could have still pull through and win the ballgame,” he stressed. But we can’t be like that. I expect a better game on Saturday.”- By Jerome Lagunzad
Follow this writer on Twitter: @JLFoxSports