The fate of the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons was still up in the air, depending on a couple of things: they needed to defeat the National University Bulldogs, while the Adamson University Soaring Falcons would have to best the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in order to force a playoff for the last Final Four spot.
Prior to this game, Fighting Maroons team captain Paul Desiderio had made a vow to his seniors.
“Nag-usap kami ni Pao [Romero],” shared Desiderio, “Sabi ko sa kanya, ibibigay ko lahat. Kung baga kung last game na ‘to, ibibigay ko yung panalo para sa kanya, para sa kanilang apat.”
Right from the get-go, Desiderio played like a man possessed. The 20-year-old combo guard had already tallied 21 points in the first half, helping UP erect a double-digit lead. As the dust settled, he tied his career-high of 30 points in UP’s 106-81 win over NU.
After the game, Desiderio immediately went to hug the quartet of Romero, Rob Ricafort, Andrew Harris, and Ibra Ouattara. He had just fulfilled his promise to them.
“I really have mixed feelings about this game. Number one this is just a fitting farewell for these valiant guys. Paolo served for seven years, ito namang si Andrew, seven years din. Ibra, two years. Rob, halos dalawang taon din sa amin yan,” disclosed second-year UP head coach Bo Perasol during the post-game presser.
“I was telling them at the beginning that during these kinds of games, sabi ko wala na naman yung bola sa kamay namin. What’s important right now is we gave ourselves a chance for the playoffs, and whatever happens, I’m really proud of how they played this game.”
Sitting right beside Perasol and Desiderio were the four seniors, who were eagerly awaiting whether they could fight for one more day.
“Siyempre masaya. Honestly yung mindset naming lahat as a team, ‘di pa kami ready na umuwi. So we want to make sure that we came out and played our best,” said Ricafort.
“Pretty much Rob said it, we just didn’t wanna have our offseason now. We want to continue, keep playing. We wanted to take any chance that was given to us,” added Harris.
For Ouattara, who finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds, the Fighting Maroons just need to control what they can control and just expect the best.
“As coach said, it was almost a do-or-die game. However our chances are now in the hands of Adamson to win. But we had to give ourselves a chance so that’s what we did,” said the Mali-born student-athlete.
Even if the result of the Adamson-FEU game does not fall in their favor, Romero shared that at least they know they went down swinging.
“What I had in mind was I was supposed to cry but I’m not crying. Because it’s a good thing, masaya. Masaya yung vibe. We gave it our best. We left everything inside the court,” Romero said.
“Whatever happens, we know deep inside we don’t have any regrets.”