Entering Wednesday, two squads were hoping to end decades of misery, heartaches, and defeat. However, only one was given to right to fulfill their destiny.
Pushed by a boisterous Isko crowd, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons pulled off their biggest win in 32 years, staving off the Adamson University Soaring Falcons, 89-87, Wednesday evening at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.
This was the perfect culmination for Bo Perasol’s three-year plan with the Fighting Maroons, which started with a sixth place finish then a fifth-place tally last season. Now, UP have the chance to win it all.
“I’ve always believed that any successful program has to go through a struggle. But when you go through that and quit, it won’t be worth it,” Perasol shared. “I just encouraged them and told them that this is a bridge that we need to cross in order to get to greatness. And they responded to that.”
UP will make their first finals appearance since 1986. Back then, the likes of Eric Altamirano, Benjie Paras, Joey Guanio, and Ronnie Magsanoc steered the Fighting Maroons to the top of the collegiate world.
This time around, new heroes have risen who will forever live in UP folklore.
And it was Paul Desiderio who said not today.
Down by one in overtime, Jaydee Tungcab found Desiderio for a wide-open triple. Jerom Lastimosa was then able to knot things up after knocking down two clutch free throws seconds later.
But the graduating guard would not be denied his moment. He scored on a jumper over Sean Manganti with six seconds remaining.
Desiderio finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, four steals, and two assists.
“I had to call the early timeout during overtime because I had to remind them that it was not over. Both teams were in penalty and on the other side Papi [Sarr] was also limping. We were all tired. We had a very good chance in the end when Paul made that shot and everybody contributed on defense,” added Perasol.
All UP needed was one stop. Zoned in, Bright Akhuetie and a quartet of UP guards forced Jerom Lastimosa to shoot a tightly-contested triple. The shot missed.
Euphoria filled the Big Dome.
Behind Juan Gomez de Liano’s career-game, UP would lead by as much as 13 points in the contest. Then Simon Camacho, Jerrick Ahanmisi, and the rest of the Soaring Falcons stormed right back in the third canto.
In deep waters, Lastimosa proved the hero for Adamson, knocking down a triple with a couple of seconds left in regulation to send the game into extra time.
Gomez de Liano had 30 big points, while Bright Akhuetie tallied 13 points and 17 boards.
“I made a promise to the Lord that we were going to the Finals, the glory will go to him. Yes, we made it but it wasn’t without tears and hard work. This team is going to fight no matter what,” Perasol shared.
“There was a lot of times that I already gave up in this game. But I told myself that if I cannot stand for my team, who else will believe? I just kept encouraging them and that is what happened,” Perasol added about the thriller.
Jerrick Ahanmisi led Adamson with 20 points, while rookie Jerom Lastimosa added 17.
Pap Sarr had 16 points and 15 rebounds, while Manganti – who was battling foul-trouble all game long – was limited to just six points on seven shots in his final UAAP game.
UP will next face the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles in the best-of-three finals series.
UP (89) — Gomez de Liaño Ju. 30, Desiderio 16, Akhuetie 13, Gomez de Liaño Ja. 8, Tungcab 6, Prado 6, Dario 5, Manzo 4, Jaboneta 1, Lim 0, Vito 0.
AdU (87) — Ahanmisi 20, Lastimosa 17, Sarr 16, Camacho 10, Pingoy 7, Manganti 6, Magbuhos V. 6, Espeleta 2, Mojica 2, Bernardo 1.
Quarterscores: 26-16, 51-42, 64-67, 78-78, 89-87