UP MBT surrenders UAAP crown to Ateneo in heartbreaking Game 3

The University of the Philippines (UP) fell short of completing their title defense as they bowed down to the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 75-68, in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball finals on Dec. 19.

The Fighting Maroons could not close out their fourth-quarter comeback charge for a historic title repeat at the 21,000-strong Smart-Araneta Coliseum crowd as Ateneo sealed a dominant performance all match long with their 12th championship.

State U’s lackluster offense plagued their slow production at the onset of the game, UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde said. 

“I think malaking bagay siguro kanina yung free throws namin. Sana we did a good job sa free throws. Siguro [mas malaki] ‘yung chance namin,” Monteverde said in the post-game interview.

Stunted by Ateneo’s tight defense, UP found themselves scoreless in the first four minutes of the game. Cyril Gonzales fired the first basket to begin a mini-run, but the Blue Eagles took the offensive edge for a double-digit lead to end the first quarter, 30-14.

Mythical Five member Carl Tamayo opened the second frame with consecutive treys en route to a 6-0 run midway through the quarter, courtesy of free throws by Tamayo and Harold Alarcon.

However, Ateneo’s aggressive defense clamped down on UP, denying them any chance of trimming the deficit.

The maroon shirts had a bit of a gap to cut down in the second half as they trailed Ateneo by 15. Ateneo scored five straight points early in the third quarter to balloon their lead to 20–the biggest in the match and in the entire series.

A UP surge emerged during the third frame as the maroons eventually found their rhythm, with JD Cagulangan fueling an 18-4 run that included a Henry Galinato rim rocker and two James Spencer three-pointers to help inch their score closer, 56-50. 

The maroon-and-white were able to further trim the gap, 70-67, after Harold Alarcon shot a one-of-three free throw, deliberately missing the last attempt to convert into a trey with 20.1 seconds remaining. 

A visibly upset Carl Tamayo slumps on the courtside after their Game 3 loss.
Photo by Guinevere Latoza

Blue Eagles BJ Andrade and Sean Quetivis, however, sank five crucial free throws with 0.7 ticks left that virtually denied the Fighting Maroons a chance of coming back and winning two UAAP titles in one year. 

In bittersweet fashion, Zavier Lucero went on the court to shoot a technical free throw–his last as a UP player. Lucero was earlier ruled out for the decider after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus tear.

Spencer paced the decisive loss with 14 points, while Alarcon pitched in 11 points. 

Meanwhile, Ateneo’s Ange Kouame earned finals MVP honors with a double-double outing of 19 points and 12 rebounds.

‘Keep the fire burning’

Members of the UP Men’s Basketball team appeared before the UP community in the University Amphitheater after the game to express their gratitude for their unwavering support throughout the season. 

The maroon faithful proceeded to light the bonfire despite the loss. Moreover, the new breed of Fighting Maroons who are set to join the squad in the upcoming seasons was also present at the event. 

After failing to defend their UAAP crown, Monteverde already has his sights set on next season’s redemption run, citing the recently-concluded finals as a key motivation for the team moving forward. 

“Ever since day one, we always talk about [how] nothing is permanent. If you earned something, it’s not yours forever. But life goes on, you gotta keep working. It doesn’t end with one achievement,” Monteverde said.

“For us, we knew what was at stake going [into] Season 85 and we approached it the best way that we can.”

Five Fighting Maroons made their swan songs in Game 3, including Lucero, Galinato, AJ Madrigal, CJ Catapusan and team captain Brix Ramos.

Not all is lost for UP, as senior player James Spencer expressed his commitment to play his final year for UP along with CJ Cansino, who is expected to reach full recovery from ACL by the next season. 

With five seniors on their way out and a revitalizing young force coming in, the Fighting Maroons are expected to undergo a major revamp ahead of another shot at championship glory in 2023.

UP MBT QUARTER SCORES: 14-30, 32-47, 52-60, 68-75