By Mikee Garcia
Gelo Vito fired up three consecutive treys in the final canto to help the UP Fighting Maroons draw first blood in the opener of the 78th season of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, Saturday.
Vito, who topscored the Diliman-based squad with 11 points, wowed the crowd with three successful shots from the rainbow country that gave them enough cushion to beat the UE Red Warriors, 62-55
“All throughout the pre-season, that’s what I’m working out, my outside shooting,” Vito said. “When you’re open, take a shot.”
Wingman Dave Moralde chipped in with eight points while returning players Paul Desiderio and Jett Manuel both registered seven points to help UP bag its first opening game win since 2012, also against UE.
The Recto-based dribblers, however, threatened for a comeback as veteran Chris Javier and Edson Batiller scored crucial points in the last two minutes to trim the lead to four, 59-55.
But Moralde and rookie Jerson Prado made a combined effort in notching three free throws during the dying seconds to secure the victory for this year’s host school.
Newly-appointed head coach Rensy Bajar said hard work was the reason behind their victory.
“UP will remain a defensive team all throughout the season,” he said. “The outcome after 10 minutes will not define the overview of the rest of the game. We shall maintain it until the final buzzer.”
Batiller was the top scorer for the Red Warriors, finishing 17 points. While Javier registered a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds in a losing effort for UE.
UP hopes to replicate their success in their next game as they face a rookie-laden De La Salle University Green Archers squad on Wednesday, 2 p.m., at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
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
UE 55 – Batiller 17, Javier 10, Palma 6, Manalang 5, De Leon 4, Abanto 4, Charcos 2, Gagate 2, Yu 2, Sta. Ana 2, P. Varilla 1
Quarters: 11-7, 29-25, 45-37, 62-55