Redemption denied: UP bows to La Salle for back-to-back silver

The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons suffered yet another reverse sweep season-ender after a 69-73 denial by the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 86 finals before a record-breaking crowd of 25,192 at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday, Dec. 6. 

This marked State U’s second-straight runner-up finish, following their heartbreaking loss against the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the same cardiac fashion last season.

“We played well but we fell short,” back-to-back Mythical Five member Malick Diouf lamented during the post-game interviews. “Sayang, I wanted to bring the trophy back to the UP community because it was my last year.” 

Diouf wrapped up his epic UAAP career, leading the Maroons once more with a signature double-double performance of 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field and 14 rebounds. 

Meanwhile, Rookie of the Year Francis Lopez and Harold Alarcon unloaded 12 and 10 markers, respectively.

Graduating players CJ Cansino and Malick Diouf held their fists up after playing their last matches in the collegiate league. Photo by the UAAP Media Bureau

Unlike in Game 2 where they started waxing hot, the Maroons struggled to convert points early until Lopez’s fastbreak slam provided spark en route to an 8-5 advantage. 

Both teams traded leads from thereon before DLSU narrowly dominated the arc on offense, draining two consecutive treys for a slim 22-21 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Diliman-based squad found their rhythm back midway through the second frame as Diouf and Alarcon conspired for a 37-28 edge.

With the Fighting Maroons enjoying their biggest lead at 9, the Green Archers quickly responded with a 10-2 blitz capped by big man Michael Philips putback dunk, bringing the score down to 38-39.

Off a 4-point deficit entering the half, reigning season MVP Kevin Quiambao drained five straight buckets for the green shirts to build a 10-0 barrage for a 51-47 separation. 

Unfazed, UP weathered DLSU’s gallant stand as Diouf and Alarcon connived anew to notch 4 points each, regaining the upperhand, 58-55, heading to the final frame.  

Graduating star CJ Cansino opened the last quarter by draining the Maroon’s lone triple of the game before a trademark Alarcon isolation play pushed their team further ahead, 65-58.

However, the deadly duo of Quiambao and Evan Nelle took matters into their own hands as they erupted for a 10-2 run to snatch the lead right back for DLSU, 68-67.

Quiambao sank two crucial free throws to put the Green Archers in the better end of a messy final 5 minutes, 70-67, as both teams fell under a dry spell.

With less than 20 seconds left in the game, a jarring Quiambao turnover saw the Maroons blitzing into transition but Alarcon missed the potential equalizing triple, giving the possession back to the Archers.

After Quiambao split his free throws off a desperation foul, 71-67, Lopez’ lay-in off a Diouf airballed trey with 2 seconds remaining kept their squad’s hope alive. 

That was the end for UP, however, as DLSU did not let the chance slip through their fingers with Quiambao nailing the game-sealing freebies.

The Maroons closed the season with a silver medal off a strong 12-2 elimination round tally that posted their first top-seed appearance heading into the Final Four.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, Cansino was all but grateful for the opportunity to play for UP.

“Sobrang roller coaster ride kami. Sa teammates ko and Coach Gold, nagpapasalamat ako sa tiwala na binigay nila sa akin,” said Cansino, who dished out only 5 points in his swan song.

Meanwhile, Quiambao, who bagged the Finals MVP award led the Green Archers return to the throne after seven years with 21 points and nine rebounds.

QUARTER SCORES: 21-22, 43-39, 58-55, 69-73