After 10 long years, the UP Fighting Maroons defeated the UST Growling Tigers, 74-69, for their fifth overall win at the FilOil Flying V Centre, November 6.
With this victory, UP (5-8) eliminated UST (3-9) from Final Four contention, providing the proverbial cherry on top for the Maroons.
Coincidentally, this win also eclipsed the 4-8 team record set by the Maroons in that same season, where now-PBA stars Arwind Santos and LA Tenorio still ran wild with their alma maters.
With a UP-dominated crowd nearly filling the San Juan-based arena, the Maroons opened the game pumped and ready to trade shots with the struggling Tigers. Neither team let up in the first two periods as UP entered halftime with only a one-point lead, 31-30.
The first half was highlighted with short bursts of scoring from both sides. UP came up big on the defensive side, however, especially from the fleet-footed forward Noah Webb, who recorded two chasedown blocks a la LeBron James. His second rejection of the first half was so powerful that the ball jammed between the rim and backboard, much to the disbelief and awe by the UP faithful.
Gunning to break free from the hungry Tigers, key returnee Kyles Lao went on a personal 6-0 run, sending the UP bench to a very raucous frenzy that even got them a warning for improper bench decorum.
Up to this point, no single Maroon stood out on the offensive end thanks to unselfish ball-movement leading to numerous wide-open shots.
With a comfortable lead heading to the fourth, UP proceeded to stir up the crowd to a fever pitch as they went on a 13-2 run. This gave the Diliman-based ballers their largest lead of the game at 15, 63-48. UST captain Louie Vigil even fouled out in the process, which made the UP fans even happier.
Not giving up, UST’s Zach Huang and Jeepy Faundo tried to keep the score within reach and almost succeeded, trimming the score to as close as 69-66 with less than 30 seconds remaining.
Historically known for blowing late-game leads, the battle-hardened Maroons held their ground until the final buzzer, which sent the packed arena rocking with cheers. They now head to their final game of the season against the UE Red Warriors with a two-game winning streak.
Coach Bo Perasol clearly noticed the increase in passion and attendance from the fans.
“More than anything else, the thing that resulted in this win [was] the excitement from the UP community.”
He also noted that many of the players who contributed in this game were inspired by Lao’s personal run. He also said that Lao was actually surprised that he was even called to play at all.
The team effort was indeed clear from the box score, as five Maroons had six points apiece followed by four players with three markers each. Paul Desiderio led the charge at the end with 16 points, a team-high 13 rebounds and seven assists. On the other end, Vigil tried his best to keep the Tigers alive with 16 points and eight boards, but ultimately fell short.
Desiderio was also very pleased with the fan turnout of this game.
“Dati nga, halos binibigay na namin yung mga ticket, pero di pa rin nauubos,” joked the third-year swingman.
As Coach Perasol noted, their possible entry to the Final Four is out of their hands as current fourth seed Adamson University needs to lose their remaining games for UP to have a chance.
Nevertheless, the Maroons look forward to ending the season on a high note against the freefalling UE Red Warriors next Sunday, Nov. 13 at the Araneta Coliseum, in what will possibly be captain Jett Manuel’s final game as a Maroon.