by Mikee Garcia
Hopes for a Final Four slot faded for the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons after being outlasted by defending champions National University (NU) Bulldogs, 75-69, in their second round meeting in UAAP Season 78 men’s basketball wars at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, Sunday.
The Diliman-based squad fell to 3-9 record at seventh spot while the Sampaloc-based team kept their Final Four aspirations alive, improving to a 6-7 record.
Head Coach Rensy Bajar pinpointed the team’s failure of maintaining their lead in the first half to the team’s lackluster performance in the third quarter.
“Our game at the third quarter exposed our lack of maturity and experience which NU had. We’re just starting to learn and we have to do it as a team,” said Bajar.
UP had good looks in the basket and forced their opponents to costly turnovers throughout the first quarter, posting a five-point lead at the end of it with a score of 18-13.
But NU tallied a 9-0 run in the first five minutes of the second quarter to grab the lead, 22-18. Although UP assured to have the lead before the end of the first half as Jett Manuel and Diego Dario scored buckets in the final minute going to half-time, 31-28.
At the third canto, the Maroons kept their scoring pace in the first five minutes as team captain JR Gallarza and Agustini Amar drained their shots to tie the game at 38 all. They, however, failed to score in the next three minutes as the Bulldogs posted their biggest lead at 12 with a score of 52-40.
It was a tight game at the final quarter for both teams as UP trimmed the lead of NU to three, 60-63, courtesy of a fastbreak play from Henry Asilum. But NU’s top scorer Gelo Alolino fired up as he scored nine of his 26 points in the succeeding plays to secure the win for the Bulldogs.
Manuel, who led the Maroons with 13 points, was not impressed by his personal performance.
“I feel [honestly] frustrated. It’s hard for me to think that I performed well and then ending up with a loss,” he said. “I’d rather perform well and end up with a win.”
As one of the veterans in the team, Manuel was optimistic that the Maroons will play all out in their last two games even they are already out of the Final Four contention.
“Right now, we are still keeping the mindset that we want to improve our record. Even if we feel that we’re out of the play-offs already, it’s still no excuse to think that that’s it already because it’s going to reverse everything that we’ve been working for the whole season,” he added.
The Maroons will have a tough assignment in their next game when they face De La Salle University Green Archers, whom they defeated in the first round, on Wednesday still at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
NU (75) — Alolino 26, Aroga 15, Neypes 7, Celda 7, Salim 6, Alejandro 4, Javillonar 3, Yu 3, Javelona 2, Morido 2, Diputado 0, Abatayo 0.
UP (69) — Manuel 13, Dario 13, Desiderio 10, Amar 9, Kone 6, Moralde 4, Asilum 4, Gallarza 4, Harris 2, Lim 2, Longa 2, Jaboneta 0, Juruena 0, Webb 0.
Quarterscores: 13-18, 28-31, 52-42, 75-69.