First game, first win. The UP Fighting Maroons took the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws by the horns to win its Season 82 opener in the University Athletics Association of Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament on September 4 at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Big Dome echoed with chants from both maroon, and green and gold sides as UP, last season’s runner-up, clashed with Season 81’s fourth place finisher. A formidable opponent, FEU, along with De La Salle University, has the highest number of semifinals appearances since UAAP instituted the final four format in 1993.
The Tamaraws drew first blood with Ken Tuffin shooting from beyond the arc. UP pushed back with a 7-0 run coming from Jun Manzo’s three-pointer and back-to-back dunks by Bright Akhuetie and Ricci Rivero. With less than a minute left in the tight first quarter, Juan Gomez de Liaño sank a trey that broke FEU’s two-point lead. Another basket from his brother Javi closed the first quarter at 20-17.
The Maroon squad asserted its dominance in the second quarter, successfully staving off FEU’s field goal attempts for almost four minutes. Two consecutive three-point shots by King Maroon Noah Webb and Rivero gave UP a double-digit lead at 32-22 with a little over four minutes remaining in the quarter. The team from Morayta failed to close the gap and the first half ended at 38-27.
It seemed the halftime break cooled the Fighting Maroons a bit too much as they struggled to keep up with the charging Tamaraws back on the court. Scoring only nine points against FEU’s seventeen, UP’s 11-point lead in the first half dwindled to three, 47-44, at the end of the third quarter.
The Diliman dribblers rallied to maintain its slim lead in the last quarter until Tamaraw LJ Gonzales’s basket cut down UP’s lead to one, 55-54. With four minutes left in the game, a foul by Javi Gomez de Liaño sent Tamaraw Wendell Comboy to the charity line, where he sank one of two to tie the match. The tense deadlock lasted for almost three minutes until Akhuetie’s points in the paint put UP back in the lead with less than two minutes remaining. And just as Manzo scored the first Maroon goal, he ended the match with four points from the line to a final score of 61-55.
Top scorer for UP was Javi Gomez de Liaño with a career high of 22 points, while Akhuetie was top rebounder with 11.
The UP Fighting Maroons will face the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers in their second game in this UAAP season’s first round of eliminations. The game will be at 4:00pm on September 7, in the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.