UP drops injury-marred Game 2 to force sudden death with Ateneo

In what could have been their title coronation, the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons fell prey to the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 65-55, in Game 2 of the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball finals, Dec. 14.

A foul-plagued UP found themselves on the losing end last Wednesday in front of a 20,000-strong crowd at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum as Ateneo rebounded to stretch the championship series to a decider.

The 55-point mark is the lowest output that the Fighting Maroons registered in a UAAP match under head coach Goldwin Monteverde.

UP assistant coach Chirstian Luanzon cited their slow start in the first half and poor shooting throughout the match as key factors to the sorry defeat.

“Coaches always say that no one wins in the first half but the first half always has a big impact on how the result of the game will be and how the second half would turn out. So far, it’s been a first half series,” Luanzon said in the post-game interview.

Rubbing salt to the maroons’ wound was the loss of Mythical Five member Zavier Lucero to a left-knee injury early in the fourth quarter. Courtside reports state Lucero heard a “crack” when he fell down while going for a bucket at the 8:31 mark. 

Lucero tallied six points and 11 rebounds before the no-contact incident.

The graduating forward underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test Thursday morning. 

“I’m sure you guys saw he had a hard time walking, no? Even our medical team helped him out, two guys carried him. I guess that speaks a lot already,” Luanzon remarked.

It was then confirmed two days after the Game 1 loss that Lucero suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear on his left knee, ruling him out of the title-deciding match. 

Zavier Lucero muscles through the Ateneo defense for a bucket. Photo by Pilar Fernandez.

The maroons led in the opening minutes, 14-11, before committing four straight personal fouls, which allowed the Blue Eagles to snatch the lead from the free-throw line, 20-19.

Ateneo began pulling away in the second frame thanks to a 9-0 swing capped by a Kai Ballungay hammer, but a Carl Tamayo trey and Gerry Abadiano dime kept UP within striking distance, 30-25. 

Henry Galinato Jr. also joined the scoring spree, delivering an impact ball off the bench at 39-33, but Geo Tiu negated the run with a bucket to give the Blue Eagles some breathing space by the end of the first half.

It was a virtually all-Ateneo third quarter as Ballungay and Ange Kouame paced Ateneo’s ruthless offense for a 57-44 tally.

Lucero’s injury early in the fourth seemingly roused the maroon squad as they began clawing their way back from a 15-point deficit, courtesy of Carl Tamayo and Terrence Fortea, who knocked down a triple to bring the lead down to nine, 63-54, with 4:46 left.

However, Galinato botched a crucial dunk in the next sequence, cutting the UP run short as Kouame scored another bucket to solidify the Eagles’ double-digit lead.

Ateneo eventually secured the win to extend the finals series to the limit.

Tamayo top scored for the maroons with 15 points, while JD Cagulangan added 11 markers. Newly-crowned season MVP Malick Diouf finished with a lackluster 2-point, 11-rebound performance.

Meanwhile, Kouame led Ateneo’s winning charge with 19 points and 11 rebounds. 

With their title defense on the line, Coach Monteverde wants his team to move on from the loss and focus on tomorrow’s do-or-die match against Ateneo.

“Importante ang team ay hindi susuko nang ganoon. Importante ang bangon namin for Monday,” he said.

UP MBT QUARTER SCORES: 19-20, 33-41, 44-57, 55-65