UNIVERSITY of the Philippines (UP) again brandished a never-say-die game but this time at the most crucial phase of Season 84 University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball action.
The Fighting Maroons brought down the vaunted Blue Eagles for the second time this season via an 81-74 overtime victory in Game 1 of the best-of-three Finals witnessed live by more than 11,000 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday night.
One more win and the Fighting Maroons are UAAP champions again after 36 years when a Benjie Paras-led squad, spiced by the dynamic frontcourt dup of Ronnie Magsanoc and Eric Altamirano, gave UP, a founding member of the league, its first men’s basketball title.
If the Fighting Maroons were on the driver’s seat in overtime, they weren’t in regulation when they played catch-up to their “four-peat-seeking” rivals from across Katipunan.
And it took a courageous and cold-blooded three-pointer from James Spencer to send the game to overtime at 70-all.
“We had our ups and downs on both ends of the court,” UP Coach Goldwin Monteverde said. “But we just kept reminding each other not to give up.”
Not to give up the Fighting Maroons did—a trait they flashed since the last day of the eliminations when they dealt the Blue Eagles their first loss in 39 games spanning three seasons, 84-83, on Labor Day May 1.
On Friday night, that unrelenting stance reared its teeth to the hilt as the Fighting Maroons staved off the De La Salle Green Archers’ upset bid in their do-or-die Final Four duel, 78-74.
Trailing by three in the extra period, UP unleashed eight straight points on Zavier Lucero’s three-pointer, Ricci Rivero’s and-one and Carl Tamayo’s layup for a 79-74 lead with a little over two minutes left.
The Fighting Maroons then applied a suffocating defense that dealt Ateneo scoreless until the final buzzer.
UP could bring the trophy back to Diliman in Game 2 set at 6 p.m. also at the MOA Arena.
Rivero had 19 points, including a flawless 11-of-11 from the free-throw line, for UP, while Lucero finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.
Spencer also stepped up with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field, while Malick Diouf—who fouled out with 4:42 left in overtime—finished with 10 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block.
Ange Kouame led the Blue Eagles with 18 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks, four assists and two steals. SJ Belangel and Raffy Verano each tallied 17 points for Ateneo.
Dave Ildefonso was limited to only six points on 2-of-6 shooting while committing six turnovers.