THESE Fighting Maroons are for real.
The University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons survived a blazing rally by league powerhouse De La Salle University to pull off a 71-66 win in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum Wednesday, Sept. 9.
UP rookie coach Rensy Bajar expressed satisfaction at the surprise turnaround of the unheralded Fighting Maroons, who tallied their second consecutive victory after winning only a single game last season.
“Ang sarap. Hindi ko masabi ’yung pakiramdam. Basta napakasaya namin at maganda ’yung naging panalo namin,” said Bajar.
The last time UP beat La Salle was more than six years ago on Aug. 22, 2009.
UP’s Jett Manuel led his team with 14 points, five rebounds, and five assists, while Paul Desiderio chipped in 13 markers. Rookie Pio Longa scored 10 points for the Fighting Maroons, who hiked their lead to as much as 17 points.
Meanwhile, University of Santo Tomas got a surprise lift from Ed Daquiaog, who scored the final six points of the Growling Tigers, to nip the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 72-71.
Daquiaog closed out the game in style as he scored on three consecutive layups, including the last one with 1:36 left in the game to push the Tigers to a 72-69 advantage.
With the victory, UP (2-0) climbed into a tie at the top of the standings with the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers (2-0). Trailing them closely are the Far Eastern University Tamaraws (1-1) and La Salle (1-1).
The other teams include the Ateneo Blue Eagles (0-1), the Adamson Falcons (0-1), the National University Bulldogs (0-1) and the University of the East Red Warriors (0-1).
UP held what seemed like an unassailable 13-point, 64-51, advantage with less than four minutes left to play when the Green Archers exploded an 8-0 run to cut the gap to just five markers, 64-59.
La Salle’s Andrei Caracut glided to the hoop to convert a layup to peg the count at 64-53 for UP with 3:40 left to play. Caracut would then convert a charity split to cut the UP lead, 64-54. La Salle’s Jet Torres then stole the ball and sailed to the hole to score on a layup to chop the UP lead, 64-56, with 2:42 left to play.
UP’s Manuel then committed an unfortunate offensive foul. La Salle’s Prince Rivero then received the ball from just underneath the goal to score on a layup. The same Rivero would then split his charity to cut the UP lead even more 64-59.
La Salle then went on a fouling spree in a desperate bid to catch up but UP’s players proved steady at crunch time. UP’s Jett Manuel split his charities to push UP ahead 65-59. Jeron Teng spun away from his defender at the free throw line to score on a layup and push La Salle closer, 65-61.
UP’s Andrew Harris then converted two of four free throws as the Fighting Maroons hiked their lead to six points, 67-61, with 45 seconds left to play. UP’s Henry Asilum then clinched the game when he sank two more free throws to push the count at 69-61 for UP with just 39 seconds left to play.