By Jerome Lagunzad
Ahead of a virtual “David against Goliath” showdown against defending champion La Salle, University of the Philippines guard Jun Manzo gave his fellow Fighting Maroons some words of encouragement through his personal Twitter account (@JkManzo13): “Walang imposible sa taong naniniwala.”
The UP Fighting Maroons, behind their collective belief plus some timely outside sniping and a steady poise usually seen from proven champions, pulled off what seemed to be an improbable against the erstwhile invincible Green Archers.
Top gun Paul Desiderio waxed hot anew while Manzo and the rest of his fellow backups provided the needed support as UP pulled the rug from under La Salle 98-87 before a stunned Saturday night crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The 6-foot-3 Desiderio set a new career-best with 30 points, spiked by six triples, while Manzo, Janjan Jaboneta and Paolo Romero came through with clutch buckets in the stretch to help the Fighting Maroons complete the tourney’s biggest upset win in the tourney so far.
More importantly, UP stopped La Salle’s three-game winning streak, earned a fitting follow-up to a 13-point win over University of the East last weekend and forced a two-way tie at second spot with its latest victim courtesy of similar 3-1 marks.
“My players believe that we can compete with that powerhouse team,” said UP coach Bo Perasol, satisfied with how the Fighting Maroons got rid of an early 14-point deficit and kept their poise in the face of the Green Archers’ expected fightback.
“We were able to execute the things that we planned. We didn’t panic. We composed ourselves and get ourselves back despite the torrid shooting of (La Salle import) Ben Mbala in the opening period,” said Perasol.
The 6-foot-7 Mbala, the league’s reigning MVP, also banged in a new personal-best of 34 points, 16 of them coming in the first quarter where he made four quick triples that allowed the Green Archers to seize early control.
The Fighting Maroons, however, charged back in the second canto behind the combined exploits of Desiderio, Manzo and backup guard Diego Dario before they continued their assault in the second half, with the likes of Romero, Jaboneta and Mali center Ibrahim Ouattara joining the fray.
“This one’s a big victory. A very big victory,” stressed Perasol, who refused to dwell on a possible forfeiture of victory after controversial UP wingman Rob Ricafort saw action late in the first half and even scored two points.
UAAP basketball commissioner Rebo Saguisag earlier warned UP of that possible risk “if the court decision rules against Ricafort’s eligibility with finality.”
With the win, UP now shares the same 3-1 mark with La Salle.
Earlier, Arvin Tolentino provided the offensive spark in the second half as Far Eastern University turned back University of Santo Tomas, 78-65, and got its title campaign back on track.
FEU 78 – Dennison 15, Tolentino 15, Parker 8, Tuffin 8, Ebona 6, Inigo 6, Comboy 5, Orizu 5, Ramirez 5, Escoto 3, Stockton 2, Cani 0, Trinidad 0, Nunag 0, Bayquin 0.
UST 65 – Faundo 16, Sta. Ana 11, Basibas 8, Escalambre 8, Akomo 6, Huang 4, Lee 3, De Guzman 3, Macasaet 2, Arana 2, Kwawukumey 2, Garcia 0, Caunan 0, Soriano 0.
Quarters: 11-16, 31-36, 49-48, 78-65.
UP 98 – Desiderio 30, Manzo 17, Gomez de Liano Ju 10, Gomez de Liano Ja 10, Lim 6, Ouattara 6, Jaboneta 6, Dario 5, Romero 4, Ricafort 2, Prado 2, Harris 0, Vito 0, Lao 0.
La Salle 87 – Mbala 34, Caracut 15, Rivero R 12, Rivero P 9, Melecio 5, Montalbo 5, Santillan 5, Paraiso 2, Tratter 0, Go 0.
Quarters: 18-27, 47-43, 66-65, 98-87.
Tags: Arvin Tolentino, Ben Mbala, Bo Perasol, Diego Dario, Fighting Maroons, Green Archers, Ibrahim Ouattara, La Salle, Paul Desiderio, Rebo Saguisag, UAAP basketball, University of Santo Tomas, University of the Philippines
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