Photo by Quin Astilla

Uncertainty hovered over the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons as they closed the UAAP Season 82 Men’s Basketball elimination succumbing to the undefeated defending champions Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles, 86-64 , today at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena.

While the loss would not harm UP’s twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four, it still served a crushing lesson for the team that hoped to enter the playoffs being the one in Ateneo’s 13-1.

UP’s troubles began in the second quarter, after Ateneo guard SJ Belangel went on a seven-point run to pull Ateneo to a 13-point lead, 32-45, at the end of the half. The separation prevented the Maroons from leading for the rest of the game.

UP also faced difficulty on the offensive end. The Maroons only converted a third of their shots, while also scoring just 36 points in the paint against Ateneo’s 54.

Despite the loss, one bright spot was Kobe Paras who continued his high scoring season. Paras lead the team with 13 points.  Bright Akhuetie and Javi Gomez de Liaño also got their fill, with 11 points each. UP also managed to lead Ateneo in offensive boards, with 24 to Ateneo’s 15.

However, Coach Bo Perasol refused to believe these individual victories are enough.

“Maraming kulang pa,” said Perasol. “We need to be better on how we execute our offense. We need to be better on how we’re going to consistently play against a team like [ADMU].”

Amid the loss, UP still enters the Final Four as the second seed. While Perasol wished the outcome was different, he believes the team needs to move forward from the loss to get better.

“I hope that I erased the [loss] right away in their minds. That’s my job,” he said. “We cannot talk about Ateneo right now because the fact is, they really outdid us. We have to accept it – they really outplayed us.”

However, Perasol said the Maroons still need to stay grateful for where they are.

“We’re very much hopeful that we have landed in this position, knowing that we have worked a lot in being the number two spot,” said Perasol.

The last time UP beat Ateneo was in 2016, well before the services of Akhuetie, Paras and Ricci Rivero. As they enter the Final Four, they hope they can finally get the victory against the defending champions in a possible Finals rematch.

To do that, they first need to beat the winner between two teams that beat UP in the regular season: the third seed Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws and fourth seed University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers. 

UP will face the winner of that do-or-die game on Sunday, November 10 at the MOA Arena.

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