Prior to the season, first year UP head coach Bo Perasol vowed that the Fighting Maroons will one up their win total from last season.
The University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons made true to this promise, stunning Final Four contender National University Bulldogs, 71-66, to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, Wednesday afternoon at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
The loss is NU’s sixth straight, the most consecutive losses the Bulldogs experienced since coach Eric Altamirano took over the team. On the other hand, this is the first time UP reached the four-win mark since the 69th season of the league.
“As I’ve said, we were both vulnerable teams as of now. It actually has nothing to do with what NU has done, but it was more on what we did as a team,” Perasol said about the win. “Ayun ang importante. Ano bang gusto namin gawin at ano ang mga na-accomplish.”
Team captain Jett Manuel steered the UP ship with 19 points on a perfect 8-of-8 shooting from the charity stripe. Three other Maroons scored in double-figures as Gelo Vito scored 15 points on an efficient 6-of-8 clip while rookie Javi Gomez de Liano and Paul Desiderio added 13 and 11 points respectively. Desiderio added 13 rebounds for the double-double.
“We’re just grateful for the win. I want to win more. I told the team coming into this game,” Manuel said. “I wanted to win bad. The emotion coming into this season is different. These opportunities don’t come often especially for UP.”
The Fighting Maroons had a slow start, falling to a 0-9 hole and, later on, a 10-23 deficit early in the second frame. But behind King Maroons Jett Manuel, UP fought back as they slowly chipped into NU’s lead.
UP was able to get their first taste of the lead to start the third frame. A 15-0 blast by the Fighting Maroons capped by a Gelo Vito triple to start the quarter gave UP a 34-31 lead.
As the two teams scratched and clawed just to save their season, the Fighting Maroons displayed better poise as they we able to break NU’s press to start the fourth frame. However, back-to-back unsportmanlike fouls by Vito and Noah Webb helped NU’s cause, trimming a once 10 point lead to just three, 54-51, with 6:12 remaining.
However, NU got into early trouble resulting to free throws for UP. Manuel, one of the most efficient free throw shooters in the league, knocked down six of the Maroons’ 12 freebies to help extend their lead once more to a game-high 14 points, 68-54, with 2:21 left.
Jay Alejandro tried to lift his team back, scoring 15 fourth quarter points. Free throws by the third year NU guard with 31 ticks remaining cut the lead to just two, 66-68. After making a defensive stop, the Bulldogs had a chance to tie the game. However, a left-handed layup by Med Salim sorrily missed while a seal on the stripe by De Liano sealed the game.
“It wasn’t the way we would have wanted to end the game but we can’t be choosers. We have to count our blessings. I think if we weren’t able to get some splendid games from Gelo, Jett and Javi, we would have folded in the end,” Perasol shared. “Mabuti nakalamang kami ng malakilaki. It says a lot about how we fought.”
The win puts UP a game behind Adamson for the final playoff spot. But coach Perasol just wants to cherish this moment.
“Gra-graduate narin si Jett. Alam niyang at least sa huling pagkakataon mayroon kaming chance. We’re going to embrace the opportunity. A lot of these things isn’t in our hands anymore,” he closed.
State U shot 38 percent from the field compared to National U’s 32 percent. Moreover, they took care of the ball better, committing 13 turnovers compared to the Bulldogs’ 20.
Alejandro led NU with 23 points while Matt Salem added 13 markers on a horrid 3-of-12 shooting.
The UP Fighting Maroons (4-8) looks to stay alive as they face the UST Growling Tigers (2-8) on Sunday, November 6. On the other hand, NU Bulldogs (4-8) take on the UE Red Warriors (2-9) on Saturday, November 5 at 12nn. The former will be played at the Filoil Flying V Centre while the latter is scheduled at the Big Dome.
UP (71) – Manuel 19, Vito 15, Gomez de Liano 13, Desiderio 11, Moralde 6, Jaboneta 3, Dario 2, Webb 2, Prado 0, Lim 0, Asilum 0, Longa 0, Lao 0, Romero 0, Espanola 0, Harris 0.
NU (66) – Alejandro 23, Salem 12, Diputado R 7, Pate 5, Morido 4, Gallego 4, Salim 3, Diputado C 3, Go 3, Aroga 2, Mosqueda 0, Abatayo 0.
Quarterscores: 12-21, 29-31, 45-41, 71-66.