If there is one thing that Zav Lucero has proven in the UAAP Season 84 Men’s Basketball Tournament, it is that he has the capability to overcome slow starts to finish strongly in the end.
A dismal first half that saw him only score one point while getting seven rebounds. Then the 6-foot-7 forward ended the game with 17 points and 13 rebounds in 30 minutes to help University of the Philippines overcome Ateneo de Manila University, 81-74, in overtime.
UP moves one win away from annexing its first UAAP crown since 1986.
But for the two-and-through student-athlete, defense is all that matters. After all, it wins championships.
“Yeah, I think you touched on the defense for us,” said Lucero. “It’s just we know how good offensively Ateneo is. So this team really gotta lock in and play together on defense.
“Carl (Tamayo) did a great job on (Ange) Kouame, and all of our guys did a good job of trying to communicate and play through whatever we’re going through, and just play hard. So I’m happy. We showed last game the heart that this team has. I’m glad we kept it going.”
Down by as much as 12 points in the contest, Lucero played a key role in helping the Fighting Maroons find a way back in the fourth quarter. The California native scored 11 points in the period to provide a lifeline for the Fighting Maroons as the Blue Eagles threatened to pull away.
It was the Cal State Maritime Academy product’s determination that brought life back to UP. He scored seven straight baskets to trim the deficit to three. It included a huge offensive board over Kouame that led to an and-one, which then allowed James Spencer to sink a three-pointer to force overtime at 70-70.
Clearly, he is mentally tough to just keep going no matter how cold his hands can get.
“I’ve had worse games in the past too. I’ve been playing the game a long time to know that basketball is gonna be like that sometimes,” said Lucero, who had three single digit scoring games in the elimination round.
“As long as I can try to do the other things, it’s not all about putting the basketball in the hoop. We got a lot of guys that can score. But to answer your question – it felt good to see a couple go through, for sure.”
As it is said – it is not how one starts but how one finishes. Lucero has shown he can buck slow starts and he looks to be one of the Fighting Maroons’ main protagonists as they try to end that 36-year drought.