There are times when the most painful lessons come at the worst possible times.
For Juan Gomez de Liano and the rest of the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, they were brought to school in the UAAP Men’s Basketball Tournament Finals. The Fighting Maroons fell, 79-88, at the hands of defending champions Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles, who are now one win away from a successful title retention.
“I think we saw how the refs could easily control the game. So… I think that was just it,” lamented the sophomore.
Nevertheless, while Gomez de Liano may have some grievances with the officiating, he himself admitted that the Fighting Maroons ran out of gas when it mattered the most.
“It was just us slowly giving up in the last stretch. Then, that shouldn’t be an excuse for us,” explained the 19-year-old.
“It’s a Finals game, we’ve been preparing for this.”
Game One was a huge learning curve for the 6-foot-2 guard. Under instruction from coach Tab Baldwin and the rest of his staff, the Blue Eagles kept a close watch on Gomez de Liano. His output in turn was lowered to 17 markers from the 30 points he scored against Adamson University in the Final Four rubber match.
In front of the 19-year-old was Matt Nieto who, in his young career, is already a three-time UAAP finalist with Jones Cup experience. Nieto’s experience showed, as he sank 27 points in 26.83 minutes of play against State U.
“I actually thought [Matt Nieto] was more of a playmaker, but as we saw today, he was getting buckets. Next game, we should do a better job preparing to stop their players and just do a better job,” admitted Gomez de Liano.
“It was more of experience. They were just used to playing in the Finals. That’s their advantage.”
But it was the same for Nieto, who admitted that Gomez de Liano was tough to contain.
“It’s a really challenging match-up, si Juan. He can do anything sa court. Sa Gilas namin, close kami dati pero nag-UP siya. We’re really friends but it’s a challenging match-up. Hindi mo kaya mag-isa eh. Kailangan yung team dumedepensa sa kanya,” Nieto admitted.
“Laki ng improvement niya since lumipat siya sa UP.”
At the end of the day, though, the Fighting Maroons need to put this loss behind them and learn enough to nail their first win over the Blue Eagles since Season 79. UP still have a chance to win their first UAAP title in 32 years, and they won’t let this opportunity pass this easily.
“I think, for our team, we should make and create a lot of better plays – not just for me, but for everyone,” said Gomez de Liano.
And who better to win it for than the UP community, who made up most of the 21,608 fans inside the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
“The crowd was crazy. To be honest, the UP crowd gave us so much energy. Sadly, we didn’t get the W, so we have to do a better job.”