The UE Red Warriors crumbled under pressure in the second half of their 87-58 opening loss to the UP Fighting Maroons on Saturday.
The score was knotted at halftime, 33-all, but UP stepped on the gas pedal after the break to widen the gap. For debuting head coach Joe Silva, it was the lack of effort that did them in.
"I feel like the players fell apart in the fourth quarter," he said. "At the end of the third quarter, we were just down by 13, so it was still a winnable game. But in the fourth quarter, they collapsed."
Against the taller Fighting Maroons that featured Nigerian big man Bright Akhuetie, who finished with 15 points and 18 rebounds in the victory, UE had a difficult time scoring in the paint and competing for rebounds.
However, aside from getting clobbered on the boards (53-35), second chance points (28-8), and inside points (28-19), Silva also pointed out the glaring discrepancy in fast break points (25-8).
"What I can't accept is the 25 fast break points because for me, it's all about the effort," rued Silva. "If you know me, I'm really a defensive coach. I feel that the offense will flow and will come if we play defense."
The Red Warriors displayed impressive ball movement in the first half, which allowed them to climb back from an early deficit. But their offensive output significantly dipped in the last two quarters.
"In the first half, UP was having a hard time with us because they didn't know who will score," he said. "Maybe the boys got out of control on offense, but defensively, we really tried to stay with them toe-to-toe."
"Ever since, our weakness was our bigs. Our disparity is because we don't have a foreign student-athlete so it's really hard," added Silva. "But defensively, we're just going to try and fight. Plus credit UP, they're a very strong team. I think they're going to contend for the Final Four, maybe even the finals."
The former UAAP juniors champion coach knows that turning UE's program around will be a long process, but the good news is they still have a whole season ahead of them.
"We lost, and a lopsided loss at that, so it's a rude awakening. It's good because at least I know I still need to work hard," he admitted. "Well, off the bat, I said it's going to be a struggle. I never said that it was going to be easy but I think it's a challenge. For me, I welcome challenges."
The Red Warriors will try to bounce from this initial setback when they face the NU Bulldogs on September 16.