Maroons start strong, slay Warriors in UAAP opener

MANILA, Philippines - Proving that the "fight" is indeed back, host University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons beat University of the East, 62-55, to get off to a winning start in the UAAP Season 78 men's basketball tourney at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Saturday.

The Maroons seized the initiative with a 13-2 start in the second quarter then repeatedly quashed every rally the Warriors unleashed in the next three periods to pick up the triumph, the first for UP opening day since a 69-61 verdict also over UE in 2011.

"Napakasarap ng feeling na ganito resulta ng first game (It's nice to get a good result on opening game)," said debuting coach Rensy Bajar.

Sophomore Gelo Vito rifled in 11 points spiked by three successive triples that gave UP a 56-53 cushion going to the final 4:27.

The Warriors threatened to within 55-59 on a basket by Chris Javier with still 20 seconds left. Dave Moralde got to the line and made the second of his freebies, extending the lead to five markers. UE missed an attempt from rainbow territory and in the rebound battle, Javier landed an elbow on Jerson Prado, leading to a disqualification foul for the veteran Warrior. Prado cashed in on his freebies as the UP crowd started chanting "bonfire, bonfire!" in celebration.

UP is determined to make a turnaround after languishing in or near the cellar for the past years.

"Lagi kong sinasabi they have to believe they can win, that they are winners. Down the stretch ganoon ang nangyari, they kept believing they would win this game," said Bajar.

Vito made all his three tries from beyond the arc.

"All throughout the pre-season, yun ang wino-work namin at luckily pumasok. Salamat sa coaches at teammates, binibigyan nila ako ng confidence," said Vito.

Notes: The 78th Season got going with a dazzling opening ceremony with the theme "Arkipelago,"  The performances were filled with ethnic flavor, with higantes, balangays carrying the logos and colors of the member schools on their sails, giant sea creatures and plants, and marching bands regularly seen in fiestas serving as major props for the 300 performers.

The Scores:

UP 62 - Vito 11, Moralde 8, Desiderio 7, Manuel 7, Dario 6, Prado 6, Amar 4, Longa 4, Asilum 3, Kone 3, Juruena 2, Gallarza 1, Harris 0, Jaboneta 0, Lim 0, Webb 0.

UE 55 - Batiller 17, Javier 10, Palma 6, Manalang 5, Abanto 4, de Leon 4, Charcos 2, Gagate 2, Sta Ana 2, Yu 2, Varilla 1, Derige 0, Gonzales 0.

Quarterscores: 11-7, 29-25, 45-37, 62-55.

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