By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE University of the Philippines are back in the UAAP Finals after 32 years following their victory over the Adamson Soaring Falcons, 89-87, in overtime in their Final Four do-or-die on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Hanging tough amid a very tough challenge from the Falcons all the way to the end, the Maroons ended three decades of finals drought in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines while also completing an upset of higher-seeded Adamson, which carried a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals.
UP had a strong start, jolted by Juan Gomez De Liano who came off the bench to boost their offense.
The Maroons were up, 13-8, in the first five minutes and then extending it to a nine-point cushion, 21-12, inside the last two minutes.
Diliman-based UP eventually settled for a 26-16 lead at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Adamson came out on a better footing.
Led by Jerrick Ahanmisi and Papi Sarr, the Falcons would soar to a 14-5 run in the first four minutes of the frame to come within a point, 31-30.
But the Maroons regrouped after on the lead of Gomez De Liano and Bright Akhuetie.
They would finish the quarter with a 20-14 blast to carry a 51-42 advantage to the halftime break.
Gomez De Liano continued to pour it for UP to begin the third canto, towing his team to a 16-point separation, 60-44, at the 5:57 mark.
The Falcons were undeterred though and fashioned a comeback.
Adamson narrowed the gap to three points, 61-58, with two and a half minutes remaining in the quarter.
It would complete the turnaround in the canto with an 9-3 finish to seize the lead, 67-64, heading into the fourth period.
The two teams jousted to begin the fourth, fighting to a 69-68 count and Adamson up with 7:44 to go.
The game was knotted at 74-all midway into final canto.
UP was ahead, 74-73, entering the last two minutes before big man Jerson Prado made it a three-point cushion, 76-73, with two free throws with 1:22 remaining.
Ahanmisi pushed Adamson to within one point, 76-75, with a minute to go.
The two teams had their chances at the basket after but failed to connect until UP guard Jun Manzo scored on a drive to the basket to make it 78-75 with 10 seconds left.
Adamson sued for time after to set up a play.
The Falcons’ first play was foiled but had another chance at it and they delivered accordingly with Jerom Lastimosa hitting a game-tying triple with 2.6 seconds left to make it 78-all.
UP tried to go for the win with the time remaining but Paul Desiderio’s heave from midcourt failed to hit the mark, sending the game to extra time.
In overtime, it was the Falcons who jump-started things, scoring the first six points to take an 84-78 lead with 2:39 to go.
UP then answered with a quick six points after a minute and a half to tie the score at 84-all by the 1:09 mark.
Jonathan Espeleta gave the lead back to Adamson, 85-84, by splitting his free throws only to be answered by Desiderio with a triple to make it 87-85 for the Maroons with 41 ticks left.
Lastimosa then tied the count at 87-all with two free throws.
Back on their court, Desiderio broke the tie, 89-87, with a basket with six seconds to go.
Lastimosa had a chance to win it for the Falcons but his desperation three-pointer did not go in, sending the UP crowd, part of a mammoth 20,909 in attendance, into celebration.
Gomez De Liano led all scorers with 30 points while Desiderio had a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Akhuetie, meanwhile, had 13 points and 17 rebounds for UP.
Ahanmisi paced Adamson with 20 points while Lastimosa finished with 17.
Sarr had 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Falcons.
“After that made three-pointer by Lastimosa to force overtime the spirit to fight momentarily left us. But these guys just did not give up. We are happy to be in the finals with this group of players,” said UP coach Bo Perasol following their win.
“It was not an easy journey for us this season but it was all worth it. We are in the finals,” Mr. Perasol added.
UP will have a short turnaround as it plays the defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles in Game One of their best-of-three finals on Saturday, Dec. 1.