In a time where team morale was low, Javi Gomez de Liaño brought back the fight in the Fighting Maroons.
Fresh off back-to-back heartbreaking losses at the hands of top teams DLSU and FEU, the UP Fighting Maroons bounced back and trumped the NU Bulldogs, 71-66, at the Araneta Coliseum, Wednesday night.
At first, it seemed as if the Maroons were still reeling from their losses, as the Bulldogs mounted a quick 11-2 run from tipoff and closed out a lackluster first quarter at 21-12. Only Gelo Vito found rhythm and tallied nine points.
However, UP slowly crept up with easy buckets off smooth ball-movement and clamping down on NU’s offense. After team captain Jett Manuel sank a contested shot-clock-beating three to pull UP within five points, Janjan Jaboneta closed out halftime with another buzzer-beating three from the corner, sending the UP fans into a frenzy as the Maroons ended the period on a 10-0 run.
Still scorching hot, Manuel and Vito each converted their shots to give UP its first lead of the night, 34-31.
With nearly two-thirds of the game elapsed, Gomez de Liaño was finally called to play. He quickly chipped in four points as the team picked up the pace even further, ending the quarter at 45-41 to a standing ovation from the sea of Maroon fans.
The fiery play of UP peaked at the start of the fourth, as the entire team outsmarted the Bulldogs by drawing fouls left and right. Soon, it looked like a free-throw practice session as four different Maroons sank a grand total of twelve consecutive free-throws in six possessions, giving the team its largest lead of the game at 66-52.
However, NU’s JJ Alejandro did not take the deficit lying down and he unleashed a 12-4 personal run to bring the Bulldogs within four, 70-66 with about ten seconds to go. But then Gomez de Liaño drew one last foul and sank the dagger free-throw to send UP to its fourth win of the season.
Head coach Bo Perasol was all praises for his rook after that game.
“I was really surprised he can do those moves. Siya nga ang paboritong pagalitan sa practice eh. Paminsan-minsan lang akong makakita ng player na mas magaling sa laro kaysa sa practice. He was the picture of composure.”
With two games left, UP (4-8) has now eclipsed last year’s team record of 3-11.
As usual, Manuel led the way with 19 points and an immaculate 8/8 clip from the free-throw line. Vito came in hot and ended with 15 markers, nine coming from downtown. Paul Desiderio had a double-double with 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Gomez de Liaño filled the stat sheet with 13 points, four boards, two assists, one steal and a block in just 13 minutes of play. With this, the rookie sensation was named the Player of the Game.
When asked whether he’s ready to take a bigger role, the soft-spoken swingman said, “It’s a big challenge, but I’m up for it.”#