The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons Men’s Basketball Team gave fans a taste of what’s to come next season, winning three of their four games in the UAAP 81 3×3 Basketball Competition held today, March 2, at Ayala Malls Feliz, Pasig City.

UP rolled out its squad of newly-minted Maroon Ricci Rivero, along with Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano, and Will Gozum, who served as a late replacement for Kobe Paras.

Rivero wasted no time introducing his brand of basketball to the Maroon faithful, lighting up the first game against the National University (NU) Bulldogs. Rivero scored nine of the team’s 13, and provided a strong defensive presence that allowed UP to keep NU at bay until the Maroons grabbed the win, 13-8.

The same intensity that Rivero was known for prior to his transfer to UP was even more palpable in the second game where UP squared off against the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws. It was a physical game, with both teams accumulating a total of 17 fouls. Tensions were high, especially late in the game, where the Maroons got into a few heated discussions with FEU guard Alec Stockton.

Despite this, the intensity kept UP afloat. Both Gomez de Liano brothers showed a more aggressive side, which proved useful as they drew a total of nine trips to the free throw line. The improved moxie of the Maroons allowed them to eke out a hard-fought victory against FEU, 13-11.

The third game, however, was tougher for the Maroons as they faced the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers. The Diliman squad seemed a little more tired, and remained scoreless to UST’s early five points. Rivero and Javi GDL sparked a run that tied the game for UP at 5-5, but the Maroons had a hard time finding answers to new UST import Soulemane Chabi Yo. UP would end up losing against UST, 12-8.

The losing would not continue as UP battled Rivero’s former squad, the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers. Juan GDL started the game off with a bomb from beyond the arc, putting the Maroons up 4-2. From that point on, UP and DLSU kept exchanging leads, but the Maroons brought back the same intensity from their earlier games that caused DLSU to be in foul trouble.

The close game drew to a seemingly scary finish with UP down by one, but Juan GDL proved why he’s in this season’s Mythical Five, tying the game and earning two trips to the charity stripe due to DLSU being in the penalty.

With UP up by two, the tight defense forced DLSU to settle for a bad pass that was stolen by the younger Gomez de Liano. The turnover allowed Rivero to go for a dunk attempt that  lit up the UP faithful and earned Rivero a trip to the charity stripe, punctuating the final exclamation point that ended the game, 15-13.

Following the four games, the Fighting Maroons currently sit 3-1 for the two-day tournament, and look to close out the tournament on top. UP’s next two games look to be intense as they approach playoff rematches against the Adamson Soaring Falcons, and the team that beat them in the UAAP Finals, the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles. Both games will take place tomorrow, March 3, at Ayala Malls Feliz.

The UP Women’s Basketball Team, led by guard Noella Cruz, will also be squaring up tomorrow, looking to improve on their 1-3 record from today. TNP

Photo by Jemelle De Leon

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