University of the Philippines inched closer to achieving its goal of winning back-to-back crowns in the UAAP Season 85 Men’s Basketball Tournament by outlasting National University, 69-61, to seal a place in big dance.
Leading the Fighting Maroons was the front runner to the Most Valuable Player race Malick Diouf. The big man produced a monster statline of 17 points, 21 rebounds, three blocks, and two assists in 32:08 minutes of play.
“The win makes us happy right now because (we reached) back-to-back finals. That’s a good thing for us,” said the former Centro Escolar University, who was last season’s Finals MVP, standout.
“Like what coach said, we were struggling in the first half. But good thing we ended that, caught up (with NU), and won the game. We are happy right now and we will get ready for the next (games).”
Another player who proved crucial to State U’s finals clincher was Gerry Abadiano. Against the school he represented at the junior level, the former Gilas youth member scored a key jumper to level the ballgame at 61-all.
He then executed a huge steal at the expense of NU big man Omar John to convert a lay-up in the 8-0 run.
That play sealed the win for the Fighting Maroons in the final period.
All in all, the 6-foot guard contributed seven points, six rebounds, one assist, and one steal in 14:45 minutes of play. He was also a plus-23 throughout his time on the floor for UP.
“Siguro sa game, hindi mawawala yung challenges eh. Nung nakahabol yung NU, sinabihan kami nila Coach Gold [Monteverde] na push niyo lang, pukpok niyo lang,” said Abadiano.
“Sabi ni coach Gold nung fourth quarter, diinan mo lang lang. Labanan mo lang lahat ng mga screens. Yun lang sinasabi ni coach Gold sa akin.”
State U had to dig deep since its star power forward Carl Tamayo had to play only 11 minutes. The former NU Bullpup sprained his right ankle just five minutes into the contest.
UP coach Goldwin Monteverde assured everyone that Tamayo’s sprained ankle won’t rule him out of the finals. Tamayo’s teammates, though, stepped up in his absence.
“Siyempre ano, laking tulong ni Carl sa team eh,” said Abadiano. “Nung natapilok siya, parang yung laro niya hindi naman 100 percent, alam mo yun?
“Kailangan talaga namin mag-respond nang maayos. Hindi naman magiging madali lahat eh. Pukpukan talaga. Gagawin namin yung response ng tama sa loob.”
Up next for State U will be a date against Ateneo de Manila University or Adamson University in the finals this season. If UP goes all the way, it will win its fourth championship in history.
Because of the circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fighting Maroons have a rare chance to win two UAAP crowns in just one calendar year.
“Ito naman rin ang pinaghihirapan natin diba? Yung winning the finals,” said Monteverde. “Siyempre first goal naman ng every team is how to work every day and every game na lalaruin namin just to enter sa Final Four and right now nasa finals kami.
“Now, siyempre as I said kanina, dapat talaga paghirapan at paghandaan ang championship.”