MANILA – With their backs against the wall, the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons put together arguably their best effort of the UAAP Season 80 men’s basketball tournament.
Needing to defeat National University just to stay in the running for the Final Four, the Fighting Maroons demolished the Bulldogs, 106-81. Paul Desiderio tied his career-high with 30 points, but four other UP players scored in double-digits as UP attacked NU from the opening tip, and never let up.
It was a total team effort. All but two UP players got on the scoreboard, and the Maroons celebrated wildly in the fourth quarter when their graduating players – Rob Ricafort, Paolo Romero, Andrew Harris – all converted a field goal.
The celebratory mood spilled onto the media room, where Coach Bo Perasol brought all his graduating players along with Desiderio and the Gomez de Liaño brothers.
“This is just a fitting farewell for these valiant guys,” said Perasol, referring to Romero, Harris, Ibrahim Outtara, and Ricafort, all of whom are in their final playing year for the Fighting Maroons.
“What’s important right now is, we gave ourselves a chance for the playoffs, and whatever happens, I’m really proud of how they played this game,” he added.
It was a crucial victory for UP. They ended the elimination round with a 6-8 slate – one win better than last season’s record. Moreover, they stayed in the hunt for a spot in the semifinals – assuming that Far Eastern University lost in their game against Adamson University later that day.
Unfortunately for the Fighting Maroons, the Tamaraws had no intention of going through a playoff. FEU ran through a hobbled Adamson team, 71-54, to secure the last Final Four berth and oust UP from the race.
That they failed to make the Final Four, however, does not take the glow off what has been a solid campaign for UP. For the second consecutive year, they proved that they are more than capable of competing against the best in the UAAP, and have shed their tag as the league’s cellar-dwellers.
Their last game of the season against NU will be something to look back to for the Fighting Maroons.
“This is going to be a defining moment for our program,” said Perasol of that game.
“How are they going to respond to an almost do-or-die game? They responded really well,” he added. “I think their mindset was, they’re not willing yet to go on vacation.”
“I’m really proud of how they responded to the challenge. I think that this is going to be a game that we could reckon with in the years to come.”
For Perasol, the way they played against the Bulldogs will serve as an inspiration for them moving forward – especially for the young players who stepped up against NU to help Desiderio with the scoring load.
“If you want to grow, you have to undergo these kinds of games – knockout games, for all the marbles games. Doon mo nage-gain ‘yung confidence mo,” he explained. “Lahat naman ng teams, you have to overcome those high pressure games.”
“Eh kami, ‘yung simpleng laro lang, pagdating sa end game, bumabagsak kami. Kailangan, merong pinanghuhugutan,” he added.
Their game against NU, Perasol believes, will be the source of confidence that they will go back to in the future.
“This experience, that, ‘Hey, we have done this’. Katulad niyan – maganda ang laro ni Paul, or Juan (Gomez de Liaño). They have to remember that, na seasons from now, alam nilang kaya nila,” Perasol said.
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