Photo by Ara Eugenio

The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons booted out the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers in the UAAP Season 82 Men’s Basketball Tournament final four race, securing the second seed and a twice-to-beat advantage, 71-68, today at Ynares Center Antipolo. 

Before this victory, UP has not earned a twice-to-beat advantage for 26 years.

Stunning fans and critics alike, Fighting Maroon Jun Manzo put up a free throw that gave his team a momentous win.

Before the clutch shots of Manzo and Kobe Paras, UP barely maintained a lead in the fourth quarter. 

Following Ricci Rivero’s perimeter point that opened the final frame, Green Archers Balti Baltazar and Kurt Lojera plowed through UP with a 21-4 streak, 62-66. 

Bright Akhuetie, Manzo and Paras answered back with their own buckets, 71-68.

Both teams were scrambling to secure shots in the third quarter as well, but only UP came out on top. 

Producing six markers in the third canto, Akhuetie was the spark plug for the Maroons’ lights-out shooting. 

His outstanding scoring saw its start in the second quarter, where UP’s tall screens prevented DLSU from getting to the rim. 

The Taft-based lineup effectively baited fouls from the Isko cagers, 27-32. 

However, Akhuetie and Manzo overcame the Green Archers, earning a 35-34 standing right before halftime. 

The first frame was a different story altogether. Firing up the Diliman faithful, starters Manzo and Rivero kicked off the game with a 7-0 run. 

Green Archers Jamie Malonzo, Brandon Bates, Encho Serrano and Joaqui Manuel cooked up an 8-12 run to disrupt the Maroons’ flow, but UP’s quick pacing left DLSU gasping for air at the end of the opening canto, 21-11.

The heartstopping matchup saw double-double scorer Bright Akhuetie lead the Diliman-based squad with 17 markers and 10 boards. Ricci Rivero followed shortly, unleashing 12 points against his former team.  

Malonzo and Aljun Melecio put up 17 and 12 cudgels apiece to top DLSU’s scoreboard. 

Fighting Maroons Coach Bo Perasol was quick to praise the reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) for his stellar performance. 

“His [Akhuetie’s] contribution wasn’t just points, but he was rebounding, he was defending. His mindset also of winning just rubbed off into the team,” said Perasol. 

However, the mentor emphasized that the Nigerian center was not the only athlete responsible for the victory. 

“His contribution was huge, but it was a team effort that did us a win,” iterated Perasol. 

The outspoken sports personality also shared that the big man and his teammates have a lot of ground to cover before the Battle of Katipunan on Wednesday. 

The UP Fighting Maroons are looking to defeat their Season 81 finals rival, the Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles, on October 30 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

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