UP MBT marches back to UAAP finals; WBT seizes bronze

There is nowhere to go but up for the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons after making history in their respective UAAP Season 86 semifinal matchups on Saturday, Nov. 25, at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

The UP Men’s Basketball Team (UP MBT) finally avenged their Season 85 loss against defending champions Ateneo de Manila (ADMU) Blue Eagles to enter the finals as the top-seeded team for the first time in their Final Four era.

Meanwhile, the UP Women’s Basketball Team (UP WBT) capped off their campaign with a bronze, sealing their first podium finish since 2008.

Revenge tour continues

The UP MBT’s quest to bring the title back to Diliman inched closer after exacting sweet revenge over the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 57-46, to cement their fourth finals appearance since Season 81 in front of a 14,505-strong crowd. 

State U found themselves in deep waters early as the Battle of Katipunan kicked off with a resounding display of strong defense from both teams, resulting in their lowest points accumulated in the first quarter of the season, 7-11.

UP managed to grab a slim 17-16 cushion with a Janjan Felicilda breakaway layup in the nip-and-tuck second frame, but ADMU quickly restored order with a 9-3 surge to keep UP at bay entering the second half.

With the Blue Eagles’ lead ballooning to 7 early in the third canto, UP sophomore Aldous Torculas scored 5 points in a late 13-5 State U rally to regain the momentum with a 42-37 Maroon advantage.

From here on, the maroon shirts displayed composure in crunch time and kept on hounding the Blue-and-White, limiting their production to just 9 points before Francis Lopez’s freebies in the last 25.2 seconds ultimately sealed the ticket to the championship.

Showing the way for the twice-to-beat Maroons was reigning UAAP MVP Malick Diouf with 12 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks.

UP Men’s Basketball Team’s Malick Diouf on his last UAAP semifinal match in the Battle of Katipunan Final Four against the Ateneo Blue Eagles. Photo by Stephen Busico.

Rookie standout Lopez notched his own double-double of 12 markers and 10 boards to put an end to Ateneo’s six-year finals appearance streak.

Meanwhile, Chris Koon led the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ charge with 10 points and eight rebounds.

Both teams just came prepared, especially on the defensive end. Both teams also struggled offensively, we got it going nung third quarter but more than that, they just fought hard and hindi sila bumitaw hanggang dulo,” UP assistant coach Christian Luanzon said.

Bright future ahead

After returning to the Final Four for the first time since 2008, the cinderella run of the UP WBT concluded after falling prey to the twice-to-beat UST Growling Tigresses in the knockout semifinal thriller, 83-87.

The Lady Maroons showcased a gallant stand in crunch time reminiscent of their Game 1 comeback that forced a deciding knockout game, 88-80, on Nov. 22.

However, the “Miracle Maroons” spirit fell short in their do-or-die game as they only grabbed their biggest lead of 4 points in the early minutes of the first frame.

UP quickly succumbed to UST, who exploded for 36 points, allowing the Tigresses to chalk a 50-67 cushion in the third canto.

Despite a Kaye Pesquera 12-4 run in the last 15 seconds of the game to trim UST’s 17-point lead to just 3, the UP WBT faltered in the end as Tigress Bridgette Santos’ free throw made the match a two-possession game, forcing a rattled Rhea Sanchez to miss a “Hail Mary three” right before the final buzzer.

Favour Onoh, who notched a league-record 30 rebounds in their previous matchup, led State U with 21 points and 14 boards, while Pesquera scored 20 markers built from four threes.

Achrissa Maw, Louna Ozar and Christie Bariquit also contributed 15, 13 and 11 points, respectively.

For the Tigresses’ lair, Kent Pastrana spearheaded their return trip to the finals with 18 points and five rebounds.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, UP WBT head coach Paul Ramos expressed delight on UP’s historic UAAP Season 86 campaign.

“We’re still proud of what we have achieved this season. We’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go,” said Ramos during the post-game press conference.

Meanwhile, team captain Justine Domingo shared that there is only “nowhere to go but up” for the future of the Diliman-based squad.

Para sa akin, ang third place achievement pa rin po ‘yan. Di namin binabalewala . . . Very strong ‘yung team namin so malayo pa po ‘yung mararating,” Domingo said.

The UP WBT will gear up for their eighth UAAP title in the upcoming season to end a running 40-year championship drought.

Meanwhile, the UP MBT seeks to reclaim the gold as they face the De La Salle University Green Archers on Wednesday, Nov. 29, at the Mall of Asia Arena for Game 1 of the best-of-three finals.

UP MBT QUARTER SCORES: 7-11, 22-25, 42-37, 57-46

UP WBT QUARTER SCORES: 27-36, 47-56, 66-74, 83-87