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UP staves off UE in character-building win

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In a game that saw both teams looking rusty due to the long layoff, the UP Fighting Maroons almost squandered a late-game lead but was able to make the clutch stops in a 62-55 lead over the UE Red Warriors to open their UAAP Season 78 campaign.

The first quarter was as rusty a game as one can get as both UE and UP could not apply their set plays that resulted to questionable decisions on offense. Moreover, both teams struggled to play defense against each other as all but six of both team’s combined 19 first quarter points came from a field goal. The Fighting Maroons were able to gain the lead with charity stripe conversions by Dario that gave them a 9-5 lead with 14.5 to go. Cheick Kone also made his UAAP debut and was solid in anchoring the defense for the Maroons during the quarter. A floater by rookie Fran Yu was answered right back by free throws by Gelo Vito to give UP an 11-7 lead to end the first.

The Fighting Maroons quickly blitzed their opponents in the second quarter in a 10-2 rally. Paul Desiderio was aggressive during that run in slashing through the lane while Jerson Prado capped the run with UP leading 22-9. Slowly, the Derrick Pumaren-mentored squad slowly found their bearings on offense as rookie guard Philip Manalang steadied his troops. Manalang was aggressive in slashing through the lane as he tallied five points in the quarter. However, UE could not make cap their rally as missed free throws Edison Batiller hindered the momentum they gained. Batiller more than made up for it in stealing the ball from Dario and converting on a fast break layup to close the quarter with his team just down four, 29-25.

The season 78 hosts were able to gain a comfortable cushion in the third quarter. Excellent ball movement by the Diliman-based squad led to wide-open jumpers while their zone stymied the UE offense. The UP lead extended to eight, 45-37 to end the third canto.

UE inched closer to open the fourth quarter as Chris Javier finally came alive for his squad. A midrange jumper by Javier was followed by a long two pointer to cut the lead to just four , 45-41. Moreover, the tides seemed to turn for the Red Warriors as Kone fouled out of the game with seven minutes still to go. Just as it seemed that the Red Warriors had gained the momentum, Vito, who had been extending his shooting range all summer long, connected on three big three pointers, all from top of the arc, to the cheers of the UP faithful. Moreover, it gave UP the biggest lead of the game 56-43 with 4:37 to go.

Bad habits don’t die so easily though as the Fighting Maroons, who had squandered late game leads during their season 77 run, was rattled by the press of UE. Javier and Batiller teamed up in a 7-0 run that cut the lead to just four, 59-55 with 20.8 seconds to go. Unfortunately for the Red Warriors, free throws by Moralde and Prado and a missed three by Charcos sealed the game for UP, 62-55.

“Yung excitement di talaga mawawala pati yung pagkakaba,” UP’s rookie head coach Rensy Bajar said about his team’s slow start. However, the team’s coaching staff continued to give their players trust when UE was making their run. “I told them I believe that they can win, and today they showed that they are winners.” Finally, he believes that this was a testament to the team’s hard work coming from last season.

Gelo Vito led the UP Maroons with 11 markers on 4/5 shooting, including 3/3 from downtown. The other members of UP’s bench mob scored a total of 46 points as well. However, Smart Elite ambassador Jett Manuel, in his UAAP return, scored 7 points but was just 3/15 from the field.

For the Red Warriors, rookie guard Edson Batiller topscored with 17 points but was a horrendous 1/9 from the charity stripe. Chris Javier had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Smart Elite ambassador Paul Varilla struggled all game long in scoring just a point and was just 0/5 from the field.

The UP Fighting Maroons (1-0) will look for win #2 against the DLSU Green Archers on Wednesday, September 9 at 2:00 pm at the Araneta Coliseum while the UE Red Warriors (0-1) will face the NU Bulldogs on Sunday, September 12 at 4:00pm in the Mall of Asia Arena.

The Scores:
UP (62) – Vito 11, Moralde 8, Desiderio 7, Manuel 7, Dario 6, Prado 6, Amar 4, Longa 4, Asilum 3, Kone 3, Juruena 2, Gallarza 1, Harris 0, Jaboneta 0, Lim 0, Webb 0.
UE (55) – Batiller 17, Javier 10, Palma 6, Manalang 5, Abanto 4, De Leon 4, Charcos 2, Gagate 2, Sta. Ana 2, Yu 2, Varilla 1, Derige 0, Gonzales 0.
Quarterscores: 11-7, 29-25, 45-37, 62-55.

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