The pain and suffering has all been worth it for the Iskos.
For the first time in 21 years, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons will make it to the UAAP Men’s Basketball Final Four after blasting the De La Salle University Green Archers, 97-81, Wednesday evening at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
This is the first time UP will make it to the post-season since Season 60.
“Actually, hindi ko pa naiisip kanina (na Final Four na). But when I looked at the big scoreboard while we were singing the hymn, nakita ko may asterisk kami, naiyak ako eh,” shared UP head coach Bo Perasol. “Even when I was in Ateneo, my heart went to UP. Now it was the reality. The asterisk says it all.”
Led by Paolo Mendoza and Bryan Gahol and coached by Nic Gorge, the Fighting Maroons ended the elimination round of that season with an 8-6 slate. However, they could not overcome the twice-to-beat-armed FEU Tamaraws back then, falling in two games, 70-69 and 69-70.
The Fighting Maroon’s victory was made sweeter because it has one-upped the trajectory of Bo Perasol. Perasol, who took over the UP Men’s Basketball Team back in 2016, started his reign in sixth place with a 5-9 record. A season later, UP finished in fifth place with a 6-8 slate.
This time around, Perasol has steered UP to at least a bronze medal finish as the Fighting Maroons, who sit at 8-6, own a superior quotient over the Green Archers and the FEU Tamaraws. The last time UP was the third seed entering the Final Four was back in Season 59; they finished that season with a 9-5 record.
Though UP’s student-athlete foundation NowheretogobutUP tapped the services of an ‘independent’ group of referees to oversee the match from afar, the Gomez de Liano brothers made sure that it was not needed.
The Gomez de Liano brothers, who were yet to be born when UP last made it to the Final Four and are products of the UP Integrated School, combined for 25 first half points built on six triples to run riot over their opponents.
“I really didn’t expect the kind of response my players did to start the game,” said Perasol. “I just painted to them the picture of us not having any accolades in the last few decades, for all of us who have a chance to do this for the community.”
Juan ended up with a game-high 27 points to go along with four assists and three rebounds. Javi added 19 points on an efficient 7-of-11 shooting. The two knocked down four triples each.
“It just happened that I was part of the audience watching them. I coached less and made sure to make just quick reminders. It was all them. They were able to grasp the idea of being able to make history,” disclosed Perasol, who himself is a former Fighting Maroon.
Though Justine Baltazar, Aljun Melecio, and Andrei Caracut tried to will La Salle back, they could only cut the lead to as low as 17 points.
Bright Akhuetie protected the fort with 16 points and 20 rebounds.
La Salle’s route to the Final Four just got tougher after suffering two straight losses to close out their elimination round campaign.
The Green Archers, who end their elimination round campaign with an 8-6 record, will hope that the Tamaraws fall to the Soaring Falcons on Sunday, November 18, to gain the last Final Four spot outright. If FEU bests Adamson, the Green Archers and the Tamaraws will figure in a playoff game on Wednesday, November 21.
Baltazar paced La Salle with 22 points and seven rebounds, while Melecio and Caracut had 19 and 12 points respectively.
UP will face the twice-to-beat-armed Adamson University Soaring Falcons on November 24.
UP (97) – Ju. Gomez de Liaño 27, Ja. Gomez de Liaño 19, Akhuetie 16, Desiderio 10, Manzo 6, Jaboneta 5, Dario 5, Tungcab 3, Gozum 2, Lim 2, Prado 2, Murrell 0, Vito 0.
DLSU (81) – Baltazar 22, Melecio 19, Caracut 12, Samuel 8, Santillan 6, Montalbo 5, Serrano 5, Bates 2, Manuel 2, Dyke 0.
Quarterscores: 25-17, 52-29, 75-54, 97-81