Holding a 3-4 record after the UAAP first round, the underperforming UP Fighting Maroons can only look inward in the hopes of pulling themselves out of the gutter.
The embarrassing loss at the hands of the UST Growling Tigers on Wednesday dropped them to sixth place in the standings. The defeat looked even worse for a team burdened with expectations since the preseason because they fell behind as much as 30 points against the still-rebuilding Tigers. It was 86-72 in favor of UST, but the final score did not tell the whole story. UP failed to get any kind of rhythm the entire game.
"UST deserved the win," said UP coach Bo Perasol. "We deserved to lose that game, totally out-hustled, outplayed."
UP's lackadaisical effort was highlighted when assistant coach Ricky Dandan called out the players in the second period. Kenneth Zamora buried a 3-pointer and off-ball foul was called on Bright Akhuetie, resulting in two free throws from Enrique Cuanan. The five-point swing and double blunder by the Fighting Maroons were met by a booming shout from Dandan. He pointed out that the players were more concerned with how they look on the court rather than how they played.
"Coach Ricky is in charge of our defense. He sort of lost it - why can't you do it if you can do it," explained Perasol. "As young players, they just have to understand that these coaches are trying to help them. They're just trying to tell you, you're better than that. They all know the personality of coach Ricky so that is nothing that is new to them."
Perasol went on to agree with the sentiments of his assistant saying, "When we came out of the dugout, I told them that who we are in practice when we execute is different than we go out there with the limelight and the people. As a coach, you need to remind them where their focus should be - not on the crowd, not on the drums, but on what we're supposed to do."
There was a ton of hype and anticipation for the Fighting Maroons even before the start of the season. The team was continuing to cultivate a culture of winning under Perasol, Juan Gomez De Liaño was on the rise, Paul Desiderio had already established himself as a potent scorer, and on top of all that, Bright Akhuetie was brought in to dominate the paint and add more wins.
But after their first round of Season 81, the Fighting Maroons only have three wins to show for and only one victory against a top-caliber team in the La Salle Green Archers. They've been inconsistent, to say the least. And for a team that's trying to build a strong basketball program with a winning culture, they'll have to grow and learn with these kinds of setbacks.
"We're trying to grope our way towards this," the coach said about the team's situation. "I told them we cannot let wins be our distraction and we cannot losses be our distraction. Because for a team that's not used to this, those things are happening. We need to find a way we can overcome that in due time so that we can still do what we have intended to do this season."
There's still a lot of basketball to be played but Perasol is hoping that his team can figure things as soon as possible.
"I just feel that we don't have that single mindset, to be solid and to know that we can go through this together," Perasol said. "That's why I'm hoping we have the time to pull it together."
"We all know that we have what it takes. They know and I know that we can fight. Probably it's just part of learning things together, of learning adversity together, but we have to hurry up. We need to hurry up."
The Fighting Maroons have had a subpar first round. If they plan to make to into the Final Four, they'll have to perform sooner than later.