One of the most intriguing questions heading into the UAAP Season 84 season was how University of Santo Tomas would fare this season after a successful campaign three years ago.
The next question was what system will Jinino Manansala implement.
Immediately in their first game of the season against Far Eastern University, those questions had answers.
Though Manansala was the newly-appointed head coach to replace Aldin Ayo, it was Ayo’s trusted deputy through the years McJour Luib who was drawing up plays for the Growling Tigers.
“Siya yung first assistant,” said Manansala about Luib, who was Ayo’s assistant in both La Salle (2016-17) and UST (2018-19).
“Siya yung pinapatayo ko.”
UST did not get the debut it had hoped for, though.
A 19-0 run ignited by Bryan Sajonia’s three in the first quarter saw Manansala’s wards fall behind by as much as 9-28. That proved a mountain too steep for UST, who shot just 3-of-18 from the field to open the game.
UST ended up bowing to FEU, 76-51.
It was a disappointing afternoon without a doubt but the former St. Clare College coach is electing to soldier on.
“Nung second half lumabas na laro ng mga bata,” said the 41-year-old. “They’re very young, mostly rookies, pero siyempre dapat ano talaga yan ng mga bata.
“We said na pinaghandaan na namin yung ibang team kaya babawi kami.”
One bright spark for the Thomasians was the erstwhile St. Clare College court general Joshua Fontanilla. He led UST with 19 points in 28:42 minutes of action.
The 5-foot-11 guard won two NAASCU championships with Manansala as his coach, and he is finally showing what he can do in the UAAP. He and Technical Institute of the Philippines transferee Bryan Santos are seen as UST’s main leaders this year due to their experience.
His display, alongside former San Beda Red Cub Nic Cabanero’s 12 points, is a welcome respite for Thomasians as it will help offset the exits of the likes of CJ Cansino to University of the Philippines; Deo Cuajao and Mark Nonoy to De La Salle University; and Rhenz Abando, Ira Bataller, and Brent Paraiso to Letran College.
“Sabi ko nga kay Josh… kanya na yung team kase kahit first time niya sa UAAP, beterano na siya,” said Manansala who then lamented his team’s lack of a finishing touch.
“Dami naming opportunity kanina na hindi namin napasok tulad ng mga three points, two-point shot.”
Looking forward, UST will be raring to bounce back and book a Final Four ticket amidst the intense competition around them. While the challenge is daunting, Manansala is hopeful that this current batch of Growling Tigers will grow throughout this condensed tournament.
While they are on a rebuilding phase, fans always expect UST to fight with pride in every game. It will remain a bumpy road ahead – but the ball is always round.
“Kailangan lang namin mag-execute. Kailangan lang namin ikutin ang bola. Kanina kase, 2-3 pass, tira kaagad… Kailangan naming gawing pasensyoso sa opensa, sa depense naman wala man kaming medyo problema.”
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