Maroons, Bulldogs tab expected UAAP Final Four slots
The champions of the last two UAAP men’s basketball tournaments—University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo—promptly got back on the winning track on Wednesday, with the Fighting Maroons clinching something much bigger and the Blue Eagles gaining some boost in confidence.
UP grabbed top spot for a couple of hours with a tight 79-72 triumph over University of the East (UE) to bounce back from its second defeat in Season 86 and assure a place in the Final Four, while Ateneo halted a rare three-game skid over eliminated University of Santo Tomas, 67-59, on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Quezon City.
And a wannabe champion in National U made sure that it would keep the Maroons company after a 68-57 mangling of Far Eastern in a later game.
With three games left for everyone in the eliminations, the Maroons are not about to celebrate booking a ticket to the semifinals just yet, their sights now focused on finishing the eliminations strong to book a coveted twice-to-beat advantage.
“The good thing now is that our destiny is still in our hands,” UP assistant coach Christian Luanzon, speaking for coach Goldwin Monteverde, said shortly after the Maroons’ ninth win in 11 games.
“We always want to take control of the things within our hands, and at this point, things are still within our hands. Hopefully we could sweep the next three games.”
The Maroons will close out against Far Eastern, Santo Tomas and National U, while the Eagles will gun for a Final Four slot hoping to sweep its last three games which would be against Adamson, UE and bitter rival La Salle.
The Bulldogs will be battling the Tigers, Falcons and the Maroons, in that order, to close out their elimination schedule.
Reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) Malick Diouf powered UP with 19 points and 15 rebounds despite an injured hand.
“Just thankful cause it’s a blessing to be in the Final Four first. But I think it doesn’t change anything. We have to be ready and prepare well to finish first in the second round [before thinking] about the Final Four and the twice-to-beat,” said Diouf, who was ably helped offensively by CJ Cansino with 17 points.
Meanwhile, Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin has started tapping lifelines to salvage its Final Four hopes—and a rookie responded to his call.
“When you’re having the kind of season we’re having, it’s not uncommon for coaches to turn stones over and look underneath and see what we can get,” Baldwin told reporters after the Eagles showed signs of life in defeating the Growling Tigers.
Rap Celis debuted with eight points and 11 rebounds to help Ateneo boost its semifinal chances as it improved to 5-6, a game behind fourth-running Adamson.
“The guys that started late with us particularly had a lot to learn, a lot of growth before they were really comfortable to go out on the court and play their natural game,” added Baldwin who was glad to end the losing streak with their defense that somewhat limited Nic Cabañero to 16 points. The Santo Tomas ace though, still had 10 rebounds and seven assists.
“That’s a process that you’re never really sure where the trigger point is, so we’re happy we pulled the trigger today on Raffy (Celis).”
Kai Ballungay, nonetheless, remained to be Ateneo’s spearhead contributing 15 points and 14 rebounds as the Blue Eagles look to forget the skid and move on to their remaining games.
“I wouldn’t say that everybody breathed a sigh of relief, but at the same time, you know that you’re going outside the box a little bit,” Baldwin went on. “But at 4-6, if we don’t go outside the box, then we’re not demonstrating that we have some courage as a coaching staff and that we recognize that some things need to change.”