THE UNIVERSITY of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, winners of their last two matches, look to finish the first round of the eliminations of UAAP Season 81 with a winning record when they take on the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers in the opener today at 2 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Lost three straight at one point early in the ongoing University Athletic Association of the Philippines season, the Maroons (3-3) have regained their footing and are angling to go past the .500 mark and have something to build on heading into the next round.
UP is coming off a squeaker of a win over National University Bulldogs, 89-88, on Oct. 7, a game that the Maroons had control of for much of the time but nearly lost it in the end.
Down by just a point, 89-88, with seven seconds to go, after fighting their way back in the fourth period, the Bulldogs had a chance to win the game when guard JV Gallego managed to weave through the Maroon defense from the backcourt off a rebound.
But Gallego opted not to take the shot and instead pass the ball to a teammate at the last moment as time expired, preserving in the process the win for the Maroons.
Bright Akhuetie led the way for UP with 21 points and 20 rebounds while brothers Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano added 20 and 19 points, respectively.
Post-game, Maroons coach Bo Perasol admitted that they were lucky to have escaped with the win even as he said they were disappointed to have allowed NU to come back and have a shot at snatching the victory.
“A positive way at looking at this is we learned while winning, which is better than learning and losing. We still have a lot to learn obviously but we take this,” said Mr. Perasol.
Channeling his focus on today’s game, the UP coach said it is very important to beat UST to boost their chances moving forward although was quick to say that it would be easier said than done since the Tigers have a lot of fight in them.
“We have to finish the first half of the season by getting that win over UST and boosting our chances in the tournament. Like NU, UST is a difficult team to face because it just does not give up. So we have to find a way to take their motivation to win as well,” he said.
UST (2-4), for its part, is gunning for back-to-back wins in today’s matchup after emerging victorious in its last game against the University of the East Red Warriors, 80-66, on Oct. 6.
The Tigers rode on their hot shooting from beyond the arc to feast on the Warriors and halt a three-game losing streak.
UST drained 16 triples in said game which proved to be too much for UE to handle.
Renzo Subido led the Tigers with 22 points, 15 coming from three-point land, while rookie CJ Cansino had all-around numbers of 17 points, 17 rebounds and four assists.
Immediately following the UP-UST game is the match between defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles (5-1) and Far Eastern University Tamaraws (4-2) at 4 p.m.
The Eagles are now flying high, winning five straight after opening their season with a loss, while the Tamaraws enter the match fresh from their conquest of erstwhile undefeated Adamson Soaring Falcons in their last game.
Meanwhile, FEU’s Wendell Comboy was named UAAP player of the week by the league press corps after playing huge for the Tamaraws in their back-to-back wins over NU and Adamson last week.
Comboy was all around in their twin wins, averaging 15.5 points and doing a lot of intangibles on both ends.
In winning the award, the FEU player beat out UST’s Cansino, Ateneo’s Angelo Kouame, and UP’s Akhuetie. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo