ANTIPOLO — The game was tied at 76-76, and there were less than two minutes left on the game clock.
Kobe Paras received the ball top of the key, then sank a Hail Mary three to hand University of the Philippines the lead.
Referees then changed Jerom Lastimosa’s basket to a three-pointer, which revised the score to 79-77. But momentum was now on UP’s side, after they’d been down by a 12-point deficit.
The 22-year-old’s dagger set the Fighting Maroons towards an 81-77 victory at the expense of the Adamson Soaring Falcons.
“I’m proud of my guys. We fought,” said the second generation Isko.
“That’s all I can say — we fought, and I’m just happy with how everyone played.”
The outcome was an outstanding result for the Fighting Maroons, since it elevates their standing to 7-4. It also puts them in the driver’s seat for their Final Four hopes in the UAAP Season 82 Men’s Basketball Tournament.
And for that, Paras understands that whatever personal battles he and his teammates faced today were just part of the sideshow.
“I don’t know, I just played the game. I don’t really focus on the individual stuff. I messed up a lot. I feel like I had a bad game — I missed four free throws,” he rued. “I don’t think anything was good with my game.
“A lot of my teammates stepped up. I’m just happy about that. And, you know, we got the win, so I’m just focused on the next game.”
UP has made a habit of forcing comebacks this Season 82.
It first needed a clutch Juan Gomez de Liano three to beat La Salle in the first round, then enjoyed dramatic wins over Adamson. They also almost forced another one versus Far Eastern University earlier in the second round.
For Paras, it all boils down to their experience in the 2019 BLIA Cup last July, which they won. “If you guys watched our off-season, we went to Taipei. I think that’s where we got our, you know, how we play the fight back,” said the tournament MVP.
“Every game we had in Taiwan, we had to fight back in the second half. That’s just how we are as a team.”
To take it further, the 6-foot-6 forward feels that UP has made its name as the comeback kings of the UAAP. Every team in the league is known for something, and he opines that this is how people should recognize the Fighting Maroons.
“You have Ateneo, their players understand the plus-minus, they’re a great team. You have NU with a lot of great individual players, but you have us,” Paras said.
“We’re the most exciting team in the UAAP, I’m not gonna lie. We always come back and we always fight so I think that’s just how we are as a team. I just can’t wait for that day until we really click because that’s gonna be really scary.”
While the Fighting Maroons have proven that they are capable of mounting a comeback despite lagging behind a wide deficit, they have yet to dominate a contest right from tip-off. Still, many factors come together during a game.
“We can’t really control that. I mean, I’m just one guy. I can’t control what all the fifteen other players are thinking. I gotta do what I do best — lead by example. It doesn’t matter if you’re down,” he shared.
“The game ends when the final buzzer sounds so it doesn’t matter what happens. Just keep fighting because you never know what happens next.”