By Jason V. Mercene
After ten years, a rejuvenated Fighting Maroons is off to a hot start.
With a fiery first half and steady shooting down the stretch, the University of the Philippines pulled off an inspired win against title contender De La Salle University, 71-66, in the Smart Araneta Coliseum today.
Returnees Jett Manuel and Paul Desiderio combined for 27 points to power the Fighting Maroons and remained unscathed, UP’s best start of the season in the UAAP since 2005.
“It was made clear beforehand even in the training, everyone in the team has a role,” said Manuel, who also tallied five rebounds and five assists. “Me and Paul accepted our roles, we have also a role to play.”
True enough, the Maroons’ bench provided necessary firepower for 44 points as Desiderio, Pio Longa, and Diego Dario took turns to upset the Archers in their first meeting this season.
“Sobrang sarap kasi sa amin parang sobrang saya, di ako makapaniwala (It’s a sweet victory for us and I can’t believe it),” expressed former U16 national team member Desiderio. “Gagawin namin ang lahat (We’ll do our best).”
Fresh from a season-opener victory over University of the East last Sunday, the host school shocked the Archers via a 13-6 blitz to end the first half while holding off La Salle to a dismal 29% shooting.
The Maroons continued its momentum in the third quarter, even managing to balloon its lead to 17 at the 1:55 mark, 54-37, with Desiderio and Gelo Vito nailing back-to-back triples.
But the La Salle side refused to back down as rookie Andrei Caracut and sophomore Prince Rivero led the fight back to trim down the lead to five under two minutes in the game, 64-59.
The Fighting Maroons, however, saved the win as Andrew Harris and Henry Asilum drained pressure-packed free throws, much to the delight of the UP crowd in attendance.
“I believe dito sa mga bata because araw-araw nakikita ko sila sa practice kung paano nabibigay nilang sipag sakrpisyo (I believe in what my players can do because I see how much hard work and sacrifice they are giving everyday),” coach Bajar said.
The feat marked UP’s first win over La Salle since 2009 while already surpassing the 1-27 record from the two previous season.
Rivero garnered 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a losing effort for La Salle.
The Maroons will try to defend their clean slate against the still-perfect Growling Tigers on Sunday, 2 p.m, at the MOA Arena.