Coach Derrick Pumaren considers his first year at the helm of University of the East a “disappointment” after the Red Warriors fell short in their bid of making it to the Final Four round of the UAAP Season 77 men’s basketball tournament.
“I think its a disappointment,” he stressed after emerging from the team’s grim dug-out following a stinging 49-51 setback against National U in their knockout battle for the fourth and final semifinals berth last Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum.
“I think we should be there, with the way we played, with that big run we made, with that last ditch effort we made,” Pumaren added, clearly ruing their failure to sustain their five-game winning streak at the end of the eliminations and a strong fightback from nine points down against the Bulldogs late in the payoff period.
The painful loss deprived UE of advancing to the Final Four for the fifth straight season since a Red Warriors squad, then led by current Rain or Shine top guard and Gilas Pilipinas playmaker Paul Lee, made it to the semis of Season 72 as the third seed but fell prey to the second-seeded Far Eastern U Tamaraws in two games.
Pumaren, who helped UE win cage titles both as a junior and senior standout, had all the reasons to be confident about a bounce-back campaign for the Red Warriors after taking the coaching reins from Boycie Zamar last summer with the entry of athletic Cameroon reinforcement Moustapha Arafat plus the return of a solid core anchored on top guard Roi Sumang and hulking Sierra Leone import Charles Mammie.
But the Recto-based cagers blew hot and cold in the early goings and had to deal with a stunning benching on the erring Sumang before going on a big tear late in the eliminations courtesy of a five-game winning run that tied them up with the Bulldogs at the fourth spot with identical 9-5 marks, only to run of steam in yet another do-or-die match.
“Maybe it was not just meant to be,” lamented Pumaren. “Our immediate goal at the start of the season was to make it to the Final Four. I think we had a good run. But it just didn’t work out as planned.”
Along with skipper Bong Galanza’s potential game-winning triple from the left flank at the waning moments of their thrilling encounter with NU.
"Bong had that open look on the last shot. Maybe it was not meant to be for us this season,” Pumaren noted. “That was a play for Bong. We were able to execute it but Bong wasn’t able to nail the shot.”
Although they are still licking their wounds, Pumaren admitted the Red Warriors should put the bitter lesson into good use, saying: “We just have to get all the positive things that happened this season and carry it to next season. Hopefully next season, we’ll come out strong with this experience."
With only Galanza graduating, UE could still be a force to reckon with on Season 78 and Pumaren vowed he will pull out all the stops in further bolstering his squad.
“I think they (the likes of Sumang, Mammie and Arafat) are still gonna be there. It depends on next year if we will be able to bring in new guys. We need to have a better team because we fell short this season,” he noted.