One down, one to go

John Bryan Ulanday - The Philippine Star
One down, one to go
UP’s Maodo Diouf and Ateneo’s Ange Kouame dispute the rebound in last night’s Game 1 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Jun Mendoza

Maroons near first UAAP title in 36 years

MANILA, Philippines — University of the Philippines clamped down on reigning champion Ateneo last night to come from behind and pull off an incredible 81-74 overtime victory in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball finals before 11,582 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena.

After barging into the Last Dance via a similar comeback win against La Salle in a do-or-die Final Four, the Fighting Maroons followed another never-say-die script to move a win away from the coveted UAAP crown.

The Diliman-based squad unleashed a 10-2 run in the waning minutes of regulation to force OT, where it uncorked the killer 11-0 blow to boost its chances of ending a long 36-year title drought.

Taking the cudgels from Final Four hero Carl Tamayo, a bevy of heroes stepped up this time led by veteran Ricci Rivero with 19 points, four steals and two blocks as UP seemed to finally have the number of its “Battle of Katipunan” rival.

Zavier Lucero banged in 17 markers and 13 boards while James Spencer chipped in 13, including a big triple in the last 24.7 seconds. Maodo Diouf and Tamayo added 10 apiece.

“Malaking bagay ‘yung heart ng team. Defensively, nahirapan ang Ateneo that is really a good team. The key is playing together consistently. ‘Yun ang nakatulong sa amin,” said coach Goldwin Monteverde.

The Maroons, who denied the Blue Eagles a 14-0 sweep in the elims for an outright finals berth, will go for all the marbles on Wednesday.

“Wala namang perfect formula (to beat Ateneo) pero importante ‘yung consistency. There’s a lot of ups and downs but we just told the team to never give up,” he added.

With only a day to prepare after erasing a 14-point deficit in the sudden death semifinal to beat No. 3 La Salle, the second-seeded UP played catch-up basketball until trailing by 60-68 in the last four minutes.

But there was just no quitting for the resilient Fighting Maroons.

Lucero strung up seven straight points before Spencer drained a long triple to force overtime – the first in the UAAP finals since 2013.

It was all UP on both sides of the floor from there on, forcing multiple and rare 24-second shot clock violations on Ateneo as it erased a 70-74 deficit with an 11-0 finishing kick.

Ange Kouame (18), SJ Belangel (17) and Raffy Verano (17) had their numbers but the Blue Eagles, who committed a mind-boggling 26 errors, collapsed and suffered a huge blow on their four-peat bid.

Meanwhile, the UAAP has allowed the temporary bubble exit of registered players today to exercise their right to vote in the national polls.

Only a negative antigen test upon re-entry is required for the men’s basketball players, who are under a full bubble set-up, and women’s volleyball players under a closed circuit setting, after they cast their votes.


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