University of the Philippines ensured there would be no complications in its path to the UAAP Season 86 Men’s Basketball Final Four.
For the first time in the Final Four era, the Fighting Maroons will be the top seed heading into the event’s semifinals.
They dominated the NU Bulldogs anew with an uncontested 79-57 victory on Sunday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Entering the contest, a loss to the Bulldogs would have created a triple-tie at the pole. It would have catapulted the 11-3 DLSU Green Archers to the top, while the Fighting Maroons and their victims would figure in a playoff first before facing off in the semis.
UP made sure that it wouldn’t happen, though.
It finished the round with a 12-2 record and a four-game winning streak with an average winning margin of 17.75 points.
Last season’s runner-up will await the winner of the Ateneo-Adamson playoff, which takes place at 2:00 PM on Wednesday.
“We’re looking forward to the Final Four. It’s the same. Wala kaming pinipili sa Ateneo o Adamson. We don’t compare,” said third-year Fighting Maroons head coach Goldwin Monteverde.
“Basta, iniisip namin bibigay naming lahat. Kung sinoman makakaharap namin, we’re gonna make sure we’re gonna prepare for that.”
The Fighting Maroons’ dominance commenced after Francis Lopez, Malick Diouf, and JD Cagulangan linked up for a 10-0 start in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs would play catch-up the rest of the way.
UP was in control of the whole game, only allowing NU to come within 32-26 after a Jake Figueroa free throw at the 3:56 mark of the second quarter.
From a 13-point cushion by the end of the third frame, CJ Cansino, Lopez, Felicilda, Chicco Briones, and Mark Belmonte pummelled NU further to give UP its biggest lead of the contest at 77-52 with 4:05 left in the game.
“We knew how tough NU is as an opponent. We really needed to prepare yung defense namin… At the same time, trying to improve pa rin playing as a team on both ends,” said Monteverde.
“I felt from the start – although sa gitna may mga challenge during the game – we as a team played well and we just need to sustain that.”
Lopez led UP with 13 points while Diouf had 11 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Cansino chipped in 11 points behind 5-of-6 shooting from the field for the Fighting Maroons.
“One thing na maganda rito, everybody is getting healthy towards the playoffs,” said Monteverde
The Fighting Maroons dominated the Bulldogs across the board.
UP got 15 steals in the game and scored 28 points off turnovers. On the other hand, NU only made seven and 13 for both categories respectively.
The Fighting Maroons also pounded the paint with 38 points while the Bulldogs only had 18 points in the shaded area.
Moreover, UP had 22 fastbreak points to NU’s three.
With the loss, the Bulldogs fell to third place with a 10-4 record behind back-to-back losses. They will try to make it to the finals for the first time since Season 77 by overcoming the Green Archers, who finished as the second seed and have a twice-to-beat advantage.
Jake Figueroa led NU with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Meanwhile, Jolo Manansala contributed 10 points and seven rebounds.
UP 79 – Lopez 13, Diouf 11, Cansino 11, Felicilda 9, Torculas 7, Cagulangan 6, Gonzales 6, Alarcon 4, Pablo 4, Belmonte 3, Torres 3, Briones 2, Abadiano 0, Fortea 0, Alter 0, Gagate 0.
NU 57 – Figueroa 15, Manansala 10, John 7, Yu 6, Baclaan 3, Yu 3, Malonzo 2, Enriquez 2, Jumamoy 2, Palacielo 2, Gulapa 2, Padrones 0, Parks 0, Galinato 0, Delos Reyes 0.
Quarterscores: 23-13, 42-30, 58-45, 79-57.