University of the Philippines (UP) moved on the cusp of regaining the University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) crown it lost last season.
What was expected to be a dogfight turned out to be the most lopsided finals game in 25 years as the Fighting Maroons crushed the De La Salle University Green Archers, 97-67, in Game One of the Season 86 best-of-three Finals on Wednesday at the jam packed SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The 30-point win of UP was the largest margin of victory in a finals game since 1998 when La Salle romped past Far Eastern University by 25, 72-47, in Season 61.
Defense turned out to be the key according to third-year Fighting Maroons head coach Goldwin Monteverde, limiting La Salle’s league-leading offense to just 67 points — down 13.57 points from their average prior to the Final Four — while also limiting them to just 35 rebounds — down by 12.97 boards from their norms.
“The team really executed the game plan and defense was really great,” UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde said as his team won all Game Ones of their three straight Finals appearances but in the past two seasons, both series went into a deciding Game Three.
“We just have to sustain and know that the Finals will not be won with one game but it’s a series. We have to know what to work on and be ready for the next game.”
Already up by 12 heading into the second half, the Fighting Maroons broke away as Francis Lopez and Harold Alarcon torched the Green Archers defense, combining for 17 points in the third canto, as they established a 77-55 lead entering the fourth.
First-year Green Archers head coach Topex Robinson tried to find a spark on his deep bench to start the fourth, using EJ Gollena, JC Macalalag, and Earl Abadam but to no avail.
“Obviously UP just showed us why they’re the number one team in the UAAP right now. At this point, we really can’t look for other excuses but to bounce back,” a disappointed Robinson said.
UP will go for the championship on Sunday, 4 p.m., at the SMART Araneta Coliseum while La Salle will look to force a decider.
The Fighting Maroons are chasing their third crown, or fourth if the league’s second season title, which had UP Manila, FEU, and University of Santo Tomas as co-champions.
Alarcon finished with 21 points on 8-of-9 clip from the line, while Lopez ended with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“The series is not done yet. I think we should focus on the next game,” Alarcon, a third-year guard out of Silay City, said.
Cagulangan chipped 11 points, Gerry Abadiano got 10 points, while Malick Diouf and Aldous Torculas contributed well in points and rebounds, 9-15 and 9-11.
UP forced La Salle to 18 turnovers, translating them to 24 easy points on the other end. The Fighting Maroons also held their foes to a woeful 8.7 percent from deep, drilling just two of their 23 attempts.
Big man Mike Phillips led the Green Archers with 19 points and nine rebounds, while Kevin Quiambao provided 11 points, six rebounds, and three assists – a far cry from his elimination round averages of 16.71 points, 10.86 rebounds, and 6.0 assists.
The awarding of the individual awards for collegiate basketball — highlighted by the crowning of Quiambao as season Most Valuable Player — will also be on Sunday at 3:00 p.m.