Maroons post best start in 10 years, tie Tigers on top

La Salle’s Julian Sargent (8) drives through UP’s Cheick Mohamed Kone (13) and Joseph Gallarza during their UAAP clash at the Big Dome. JOEY MENDOZA JR.

 

Games tomorrow (MOA Arena)

2 p.m. - Adamson vs Ateneo

4 p.m. - UE vs NU

 

MANILA, Philippines - University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas pulled off decisive victories but all the focus and attention were trained on the Fighting Maroons, who snapped a 10-year spell for back-to-back wins in the UAAP.

The Maroons stopped the highly favored La Salle Green Archers, 71-66, in the 78th UAAP men's basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum yesterday and further enlivened up what is shaping up to a wide open race for the Final Four.

Jett Manuel came through with 14 points, five rebounds and five assists while Andres Desiderio and Piero Longa chipped in 13 and 10 markers, respectively, as the Maroons posted their best start since beating UST, 69-66 and La Salle, 61-56, to start the 2005 season.

It was also UP's first win over La Salle since stealing an 83-78 victory on Aug. 22 in 2009, ending the former's 10-game losing streak to the Taft-based squad.

"It feels great," said UP coach Renzy Bajar, whose charges opened the season with a 62-55 win over University of the East last Saturday, in Filipino. 

It was also the Maroons' first streak since they strung up a pair of wins over the Tigers, 70-67, on Aug. 31 and the Warriors, 90-85, on Sept. 3 nine seasons back.

"This is very important to us because no one expected us to go 2-0. This is the result of our hard work in practice," said Bajar.

Later in the day, UST went to Ed Dacquioag and Kevin Ferrer in the fourth quarter as the Tigers turned back the Far Eastern U Tams, 72-71, to join UP at the helm.

Dacquioag poured in 12 of his game-high 18 points in the final period while Ferrer hit two clutch three-pointers to finish with 13 points as the Tigers scored a big follow up to their 70-64 victory over the Adamson Falcons last Saturday.

The Tams, who routed the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 88-64, in Saturday's inaugurals, fell to 1-1.

Unlike in the past when rivals could pounce on UP's limited scoring options, the Maroons this time got contribution from almost everyone, including Andrew Harris and Longa, a rookie out of Sacred Heart of Cebu.

Harris had only four points but his two free throws in the stretch and his interior defense helped UP preserved the win.

Longa, for his part, delivered when the Maroons made their move in the first half.

"I know Andrew Harris, there are a lot of coaches who doubt him but for me I think he has big heart especially on the defensive side. What minutes he's been getting, he earned it," said Bajar.

"I've been saying in my interviews before that Pio (Longa) is secret weapon," he added.

The Maroons surprised everyone by outplaying and outhustling the Archers in the first half when they led, 41-28, banking on a 16-of-33 shooting, highlighted by four triples. In contrast, the Archers, who repulsed the National U Bulldogs, 67-63, last Sunday, missed 22 of their 31 shots and turned the ball over 11 times.

UP continued its strong play in the third period as the Maroons posted their biggest lead at 54-37.

The Archers tried to rattle the Maroons with a full-court press in the closing minutes with Jeron Teng scoring on a twinner that closed the gap at 61-65 with 45.3 seconds to go.

But the Maroons fended off the threat with clutch hits at the free throw line to complete the early reversal in the league.

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