SLAM PH Four Quarters: The UAAP Season 80 opening weekend

The UAAP Season 80 is now open! The first weekend of the Men’s Basketball Tournament was full of great moments. It started off with the new look Bulldogs and then was followed by a surprise performance by Chibueze Ikeh. Paul Desiderio gave UAAP fans the first game-winner of the new season and then Aljun Melecio led the defending champs to a big win.

The SLAM PH writers revisited the opening weekend of the UAAP and answered four burning questions for each of the winning teams.

Q1: Is J-jay Alejandro the next King Bulldog?

Aljo Dolores – J-jay Alejandro has steadily improved in his first four seasons with the NU Bulldogs. Last year, he averaged career-highs in points (12.6), rebounds (4.2), and assists (3.0). He also managed to finish Season 79 with the highest offensive (90.6) rating in his UAAP stint. He also had the league’s seventh-best assist percentage at 24.3 percent.

NU’s opening game was an indication of what Alejandro intends to do this season: end his five-year collegiate career with a bang, by being NU’s undisputed leader on the court. He finished the game with eleven points, five rebounds, seven assists and five steals to lead NU to its first win under Coach Jamike Jarin. UE stood no chance in the second half as Alejandro threw haymakers left and right—whether by scoring or by setting up his teammates.

Will Alejandro be the next King Bulldog? We can’t tell for sure just yet. But in NU’s first game in Season 80, it sure looked like NU has found someone who can wear the crown this season and to run the show for the Bulldogs.

Q2: Can Chibueze Ikeh keep playing at this high level?

Karlo Lovenia – It ultimately depends on how one views what “high level” is.

If you’re going to expect Chibueze Ikeh to continue to put up 15-15 lines, don’t count on it. A big part as to why Ikeh managed to put up such a line was because Adamson did not have Papi Sarr, they’re only pure center in the line-up. The Soaring Falcons were then forced to play small (something they aren’t accustomed to doing for long ), and just like what any Tab Baldwin-coached team would do, the Blue Eagles and Ikeh took advantage by crashing the boards like crazy. 18-17 versus players like Steve Akomo and Ben “I can now play wing” Mbala? That’s not happening.

But if you’re going to expect Ikeh to play with a ton of energy and by being a net positive on the court, then we have ourselves a discussion. Other than Ikeh adding more muscle to his frame over the offseason, versus the Soaring Falcons, he looked a lot more confident compared to previous games. He aggressively attacked the rim every time he received the ball in the post, at times, looking like Shaquille O’Neal in the process.

One could argue “Well anyone could have looked like Shaq versus that Adamson frontline!” Maybe that is true, but Ikeh didn’t just stick with “could have”. He DID look like Shaq versus Adamson, because of how aggressive and confident. At times last year, it looked like Ikeh was no longer enjoying himself when it came to playing the sport. If his teammates continue to help him play confident, aggressive basketball, then a Chibueze Ikeh consistently playing high level basketball shouldn’t surprise us.

Q3: What does UP need to improve on based on their first game?

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Levi Verora –  UP has to be more mature on the court and just be mindful of the right things they should do on the court. To be able to match the intensity especially of tougher teams, they have to be mentally prepared, and that just comes with more time together on the court.

You still get the vibe that most of UP’s players still have that “kaba” or that they are new to certain situations, but they have to be tougher on the court. Once they experience more pressure-packed moments and learn how to deliver and perform well under duress, you can expect them to change and in the process they will avoid making simple mistakes on the floor and execute better.

Q4: Next to Aljun Melecio, who was the most impressive Green Archer?

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Alex Estoesta – Looking at the post-game statistics, it may seemed like it was Aljun Melecio that responded well to the absence of Ben Mbala with a 29-point, 6-rebound, 2-assist and 2-steal game. But it wasn’t Melecio’s performance alone that towed the Green Archers over the Tamaraws. Rather, it was the joint effort of the three-headed DLSU backcourt that made the difference.

His numbers may not be as that of Melecio’s 29 or Andrei Caracut’s 16 markers, but Kib Montalbo proved in this game that he is as an important a fixture in Aldin Ayo’s rotation in ensuring that the crown remains in the confines of Taft Avenue when it’s all said and done.

Scoring 12 points and adding 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals to the mix in 20 minutes off the bench, Montalbo did that a few days after being hospitalized due to illness. He could’ve just opted to rest and recover as this was only the first assignment of 14 in the elimination round. But with his team already one man short, Montalbo sucked it up, persevered and prevailed in the process.

Not only did he showed up on the hardwood, Montalbo was equally remarkable in maintaining his composure against the Tamaraws especially Ron Dennison after the fracas in Davao City a few weeks ago. Showing that he has moved on from the incident, Montalbo instead let his game do the talking and the result was DLSU chalking its maiden victory of Season 80.

Guys such as Mbala and Melecio are viewed as keys to DLSU’s quest for another crown, but a player such as Montalbo ensures that the team stays on path in getting there.

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