The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons ended their bid with a silver podium finish after 32 years in the UAAP Season 81 Men’s Basketball Finals Series, yesterday, December 5, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Despite a losing effort against the defending champions, Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles, 81-99, the Fighting Maroons owned the hearts of the 24,000-crowd in attendance with their “Atin ‘To” spirit.

We just lost the finals but I think, all in all, we became champions in our own right,” said UP head coach Bo Perasol.

Ateneo drove the second half in a truly decisive fashion, courtesy of Finals MVP Thirdy Ravena’s outburst of 38 points, six assists, and six rebounds.

UP suffered from a sloppy defense that allowed Rookie of the Year Ange Kouame to tally a massive double-double 22 points and 20 rebounds, compared to his limited seven-point production in Game One.

The 6-foot-10 Ivorian tower outmatched Season MVP Bright Akhuetie, who finished with 19 points and a wee eight rebounds.

There’s no question that we lost to a better team. Just make sure they know what they have accomplished. We cannot focus on what we did not do. Nobody expected us to be there,” Perasol said.

At the end of the first half, Ateneo was up with an 11-point cushion, 48-37, with 30 rebounds and a 45% field goal percentage to 18 rebounds and a 35% field goal percentage to that of the Fighting Maroons.

But even with a 20-point deficit, UP seniors Paul Desiderio and Diego Dario refused to give up, pulling out all the stops from the shooting arc.

Think positive lang parati na kahit na ‘yung nawawala na kami. ‘Yun ang problema namin dati sa UP, nilalamangan na kami, nawawalan na kami ng gana at tuloy-tuloy na ‘yun. Happy naman ako na nabago ‘yun,said Desiderio, who still amassed 15 markers despite struggling to make baskets at 6-of-16 (38%) in the field.

Super sophomore Juan Gomez de Liaño paced the Maroons with 24 points with his nifty buckets from the floor, including an exceptional long-range three-pointer from the Araneta Coliseum logo in the first frame.

Meanwhile, after a game-high 19 points in the first match, Jun Manzo was nowhere to be found in the scoreboard due to his limited minutes following a fall that hurt his ankle early in the game as well as being in foul trouble.

Although the Fighting Maroons went home titleless, the UP faithful continued to cheer for Perasol’s senior players, who dramatically entered in the last 42 seconds.

Sobrang happy, kasi nung 2013, ang nanonood sa’kin iilan-ilan lang. Pero kanina paglabas ko, wow ang dami. Sana next year ganun pa rin. Sana wag silang magsawang suportahan kami,” Desiderio said.

With an intact core, the Fighting Maroons are set to make a stronger comeback in Season 82 or what the fans call: #Atin82.

However, UP will handle key losses: Desiderio, Dario, Gelo Vito, Jarrell Lim, and JJ Española, but also some key holdovers: the Gomez de Liaño brothers, Akhuetie, Manzo, with the reinforcement of prized recruits, ex-La Salle big man Jboy Gob and fellow standout Ricci Rivero and Gilas national team member Kobe Paras.

In the end, it’s not about Ricci, not about Kobe, not about Bright. It’s about the team. This is what this is all about: the 16 strong. That’s why we’re able to accomplish that [Finals],” said Coach Bo Perasol.  TNP

Photo by Clarizzah Tualla

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