UP Figthing Maroons’ Ricci Rivero — THE UAAP

With its long-coveted destiny already within reach, University of the Philippines (UP) goes for the jugular in finally realizing it after three decades when it takes on reigning champion Ateneo in Game 2 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 84 men’s basketball finals at the Mall of Asia Arena.

For a team that has never been this close to the UAAP throne since last winning a title in 1986, it’s now or never as the Fighting Maroons eye to finish off the Blue Eagles in a sweep after a huge stunner in Game 1 via overtime, 81-74.

And that elusive goal starts at 6 p.m. with the Fighting Maroons also sporting a golden chance to trample the Blue Eagles’ dynasty as the three-time defending UAAP king.

Coach Goldwin Monteverde, whose wards notched back-to-back come-from-behind wins to move on cusp of ending their long championship drought.

After squandering its twice-to-beat edge in the Final Four against No. 3 La Salle, the second-seeded UP erased a 14-point deficit in the do-or-die semifinal, 78-74, to barge into the Last Dance — where it fashioned out another stellar resolve.

Ranged against the mighty Ateneo that made short of FEU in the other semis pairing, UP embraced the challenge and put on a defensive clinic in the fourth quarter and overtime with a 21-6 finishing kick for a stunning Game 1 victory.

Now, they’re on verge of a destiny.

But the defiant Ateneo will not hand it over on a silver platter without a fight, brimming with confidence that it can drag the “Battle of Katipunan” to a winner-take-all Game 3 to keep its four-peat alive.

“We believe that we can turn this result around. It’s a three-game series for a reason so we intend to work our tails off and get this thing in a third game and do the very best we can to win the championship,” said mentor Tab Baldwin after Ateneo tasted its first finals loss in four years.

The Blue Eagles last lost in the finals against La Salle in Season 80, which they still won to ignite a UAAP dynasty.

They have been lording it over the league since then with three straight titles including 39 consecutive wins and a 13-0 start this season before the Fighting Maroons played spoiler anew and ended it in the last game of the elims. — John Bryan Ulanday