UP weathers late NU storm, books return trip to UAAP finals

The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons continue their quest for a title repeat after escaping the National University (NU) Bulldogs, 69-61, in their Final Four clash at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum on Dec. 7.

Facing a gallant NU stand in the final frame, State U displayed championship poise in crunch time to mount an 11-0 surge and secure their place in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball finals.

For UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde, the limited minutes played by reigning rookie of the year Carl Tamayo, who sustained an ankle injury early in the first quarter, proved to be a huge factor in the team’s rough start. Nevertheless, the Fighting Maroons rose to the occasion.

“For the game, we started out flat. Losing Carl in the first half, he wasn’t 100 percent, [but] the team responded well to the challenge given to us,” Monterverde said in the post-game interview.

Presumptive season MVP Malick Diouf provided the much-needed lift for the maroons in the semifinal win, posting a double-double performance built from 17 points and 21 rebounds. 

Meanwhile, Zavier Lucero atoned for his scoreless output in their previous game, stuffing the stat sheets with 12 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three blocks, and two steals. 

With the team back on track in their title defense, bench spark plug Gerry Abadiano zeroed in on State U’s chance to accomplish an unprecedented feat: taking home the championship twice in the same year.

“This win is very important. Back-to-back finals, we have the chance to make history,” said Abadiano, who finished with seven points including the crucial jumper that fueled UP’s fourth-quarter blitz.

Harold Alarcon drains a pressure-packed free throw during UP’s Final Four matchup against the NU Bulldogs. Photo by Ivy Ferrer.

It was a nip-and-tuck affair in the first half, with both teams refusing to give each other an inch, before a Terrence Fortea three-pointer ignited a massive 9-0 run for the Fighting Maroons en route to a 54-45 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

With their season on the line, rookie Bulldog Kean Baclaan rallied the blue-and-gold back in the match, scoring 10 in their 14-2 swing midway in the final frame to snatch a 59-56 lead.

However, the NU lead proved to be short-lived as Abadiano zoomed for a fast break layup, 63-61, before Cagulangan drilled a three-pointer reminiscent of his game-winning shot last season for a five-point cushion with 53 seconds left.

Harold Alarcon’s block on Patrick Yu and a couple of UP free throws eventually drove the final nail in the coffin as State U advanced to its second consecutive finals appearance all while sending NU packing.

Jake Figueroa paced NU’s loss with a double-double of 16 points and 14 rebounds, while Baclaan registered 14 markers. 

The Fighting Maroons are out to defend their crown against the Ateneo Blue Eagles in a best-of-three championship series beginning Sunday, Dec. 11, at the Mall of Asia Arena.

UP MBT QUARTER SCORES: 17-19, 35-38, 54-45, 69-61

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