Ateneo- U.P. duel unfurls

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A LINE along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City will be drawn starting on Saturday afternoon when Ateneo de Manila University opens defense of its men’s basketball crown against cross-street neighbor University of the Philippines (UP) in Game One of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 81 Finals at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

The season-favorite Blue Eagles will brandish the favorite’s tag when they take on the Fighting Maroons in the match set for 3:30 p.m. and which is expected to pack the MOA Arena to the rafters.

Ateneo swept UP in the eliminations—87-79 in the first round and 83-66 in the second—and cruised past Far Eastern University, 80-61, to exercise its twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four to the hilt.

The Fighting Maroons? They practically labored the entire season and are now hoping for a Cinderella finish to end 32 years of waiting since a team led by local basketball Legends Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc and Eric Altamirano won for the state school its one and only championship so far despite being one of the league’s founders.

UP Coach Bo Perasol, a Maroons’ team captain from 1990 to 1994, wanted to go all the way.

“Everyone is saying we don’t stand a chance, but we will keep on fighting,” said Perasol after his wards disposed of Adamson University, 89-87, in their do-or-die semifinals showdown on Wednesday witnessed by a crowd of 21,000 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

“There is something in what we do that keeps us looking forward. It’s all about making an impact for a community that is hungry of winning,” Perasol said. “These guys refused to give up. It wasn’t an easy journey but it’s worth the wait.”

Juan Gomez de Liaño, Paul Desiderio and Bright Akhuetie held fort for UP to nail that overtime win over a Soaring Falcons side that was also hoping to get a crack at the UAAP crown it last won when another Legend, Hector Calma, manned the point in 1977.

The trio was instrumental in that emotional victory.

Akhuetie made the game-winner that kept UP alive in the semifinals by negating Adamson University’s semifinals incentive last Saturday.

Desiderio took his turn on Wednesday by scoring five straight points in the waning minute of overtime.

And in both games, Gomez de Liaño was in full throttle and displayed savvy all game long.

Disposing Adamson is just another step of the real mission they want to achieve.

They will be up against an Ateneo side packed with the explosive Thirdy Ravena and silent operator Angelo Kouame, the foundation of the Blue Eagles’ offense since the start of the season.

Game Two will switch to the Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday also at 3:30 p.m. and if necessary, Game Three will be back at the MOA Arena also at 3:30 p.m. on December 8.

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