Date with destiny

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Its do-or-die in the UAAP mens basketball Finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum today with No. 1 UP and No. 2 La Salle destined to dispute the crown in a showdown for supremacy. The Fighting Maroons lost the championship to Ateneo last season and want it back. The Green Archers return to the Finals after a six-year wait and werent expected to go this far with coach Topex Robinson who took over from Derick Pumaren early this year.

As the season wore on, it became more and more apparent UP would figure in a duel with La Salle for all the marbles. They were 1-2 in several statistical departments ending the elims. The Maroons were No. 1 and the Archers No. 2 in points in the paint, fastbreak points, bench points, turnover points allowed and opponents turnovers while La Salle was No. 1 and UP No. 2 in average points, assists, rebounds and turnover points. In three-point percentage, La Salle was No. 2 taking the third most attempts and UP No. 6 with the third least attempts. In free throw percentage, UP was No. 1 and La Salle No. 6.

Before the playoffs, two players averaged in double figure points for UP and La Salle. CJ Cansino averaged 12.5 points, coming off the bench in 12 of 13 games and Malick Diouf hit at a 12.1 clip on a lofty 58.7 percent from the floor. MVP Kevin Quiambao stuffed the stats sheets by averaging 16.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 9.6 assists while graduating Evan Nelle had 11.3 points, five rebounds and 6.9 assists a game.

Nobody expected UP to blow out La Salle in the Finals opener particularly as the Archers were on a hot nine-game win streak. But it was no-contest starting the second quarter as the Maroons breezed to a 97-67 romp. UP dominated the boards, 55-45 and forced La Salle into 18 miscues which turned into a huge advantage in turnover points, 24-2. The Maroons took La Salle to the cleaners behind a scorching transition attack and brought the Archers down to earth. Harold Alarcon erupted for 21 points and Francis Lopez was impressive with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

UP was ready to celebrate in Game 2 but La Salle survived a sweep scare to deal the Maroons payback, 82-60. The Archers lost by 30 in Game 1 and won by 22 in Game 2. In the rematch, La Salle reversed the tables and played stifling defense, holding UP to 11 points in each of the last three quarters. UP shot only 29.1 percent from the field and 10.5 percent from beyond the arc. The Archers compiled 21 assists to UPs eight and worked their miracle with teamwork. Quiambao scored a season-low nine points and went 0-of-8 from three, shooting 17.6 percent from the field but grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked three shots. Nelle had four points with 12 rebounds and 10 assists. On the firing line were Francis Escandor with a game-high 14 points, Josh David with 12 and CJ Austria with 11. Mike Phillips wound up with nine points and 13 rebounds. A sidelight to the battle is the matchup between David and JD Cagulangan who were La Salle Greenhills teammates for six years.

If Games 1 and 2 werent close, Game 3 could be a different story. UP coach Goldwyn Monteverde will no doubt adjust to bounce back from its Game 2 shock just as Robinson adjusted from Game 1. Physicality has been the tenor of the series and the team that stays composed should prevail. Defense will be key in influencing efficiency levels. UP will try to run La Salle to the ground while the Archers hope to slow down the tempo to grind it into a halfcourt war. Both teams deserve to win the championship but as they say, there can only be one.

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