By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter
THE FINAL Four of University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 81 gets under way this weekend with the Adamson Soaring Falcons and University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons first to be featured at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Set for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, the second-seeded Falcons, carrying a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals, look to eliminate the third-seeds Maroons, making their first Final Four appearance in 21 years, at the first instance.
Adamson comes into the matchup as the second-best defensive team in the league, allowing just 70.6 points to opponents, and fifth on offense with an average of 73.5 points.
The Falcons were steady in the two-round elimination phase, finishing each round with a 5-2 record to propel themselves to a top-two placing.
Jerrick Ahanmisi leads Adamson with averages of 18 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.
Forward Sean Manganti has been good for 14.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg and 2.4 apg while big man Papi Sarr has been steady for a double-double of 10.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per.
In two games to date, the Falcons have had the number of the Maroons, beating the latter, 69-68, off a Manganti game-winner in the first round, and, 80-72, in the second round.
“It’s probably going to be a classic game as we all know it’s difficult to go up against a team that is very excited and pumped up following a big win,” said Adamson coach Franz Pumaren of their Final Four opponent UP, which is coming off a big win over the De La Salle Green Archers on Nov. 14 that ended for it a 21-year UAAP semifinal drought.
Mr. Pumaren also underscored that having a twice-to-beat advantage does not automatically guarantee a spot in the finals, viewing it as more of an incentive, thus, the need for them to go out there and finish things.
“A twice-to-beat advantage does not guarantee one of making it to the finals. It is just an incentive to aspire for. You still have to get the win needed to advance,” the Adamson coach said.
For the Final Four-returning Maroons, the goal now is to go deeper after their initial mission of making it to the semifinals is now out of the way.
“While we will enjoy this there is still a game to be played in the Final Four and we will prepare for that. We’re in this to win this. [Adamson] is one of the best in the league. But we’re here and we might as well enjoy it and fight for it,” UP coach Bo Perasol said following their victory over La Salle.
The Maroons boast of the best offense in the league with an 80.3-point average, complementing it with a sixth-best defense of 77.5 points allowed.
Set-to-be-named UAAP most valuable player Bright Akhuetie is pacing UP with averages of 18.9 points, 14.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
Juan Gomez De Liano is backstopping him with all-around numbers of 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists while graduating Paul Desiderio is adding 13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
While they have not had much success against the Falcons so far in Season 81, Mr. Perasol is undeterred, believing the Final Four is a totally different ball game and that his players are ready to go to battle.
“What I am confident about is I know my team will fight for it. We still need to figure out things against Adamson. But this is basketball and we have a chance against them. And we’re not going to offer it to them on a silver platter. And knowing my players, they will know how to figure it out,” he said.
The winner between Adamson and UP will take on the victor of the other semifinal pairing of the Ateneo Blue Eagles and Far Eastern University Tamaraws, which play on Sunday.