For the fourth time in five seasons, University of the Philippines (UP) is in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Men’s Basketball Finals.
The top-seeded Fighting Maroons held their own in the fourth quarter to dethrone fourth-ranked Ateneo de Manila University, taking a 57-46 triumph on Saturday before 14,505 fans inside the SMART Araneta Coliseum.
This is also UP’s third straight time in the championship series, winning in Season 84 before losing the title back to Ateneo in 85.
UP will wait for the winner of the twice-to-beat De La Salle- National University semis pairing.
The Fighting Maroons split their head-to-head against the Green Archers in the eliminations, and have defeated the Bulldogs twice this season.
“Both teams we just fought. The score says it all. Both teams just came prepared especially on the defensive end. Both teams also struggled offensively, we got it going in third quarter but more than that, they just fought hard, and they hang on until the end,” UP assistant coach Christian Luanzon said.
Ahead by just five entering the fourth period, Gerry Abadiano, Francis Lopez, and Janjan Felicilda drained the much-needed baskets that allowed the Fighting Maroons to stretch their lead to nine with 3:51 left, 53-44.
Then, UP continued to clamp down on Ateneo’s defense, restricting the defending champion to just two points for the rest of the game.
Joseph Obasa contributed with a putback off a missed shot by Chris Koon with 2:23 to go, while Lopez sealed the victory with a lefty layup and two free throws in the waning seconds.
“For me, it’s a team effort. Everybody was working hard and we prepared well for Ateneo. I’m really happy right now for the win and going to the Finals,” said reigning MVP Malick Diouf, who had a big game of 12 points, 16 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks.
Lopez also had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds while Felicilda and Abadiano got 10 and nine points, respectively, while seizing five rebounds apiece.
Aldous Torculas also came to play with seven points, including five straight points in the third quarter which included an off-the-board triple and a rim-rattling fastbreak jam.
With the defeat, Ateneo misses the Finals for the first time since Season 78 (2015), which also means that this was the first year ever that head coach Tab Baldwin is not in the battle for the crown in the country’s premier collegiate league.
Baldwin won four championships during that span.
Chris Koon paced Ateneo with 10 points and eight rebounds while Kai Ballungay chipped in eight points and six rebounds.
One-and-done big man Obasa played his final game in a Blue Eagles jersey.