The UP Fighting Maroons and the UST Growling Tigers are now on equal footing as both are one win away from securing the remaining UAAP Season 82 Men’s Basketball finals berth, after UST’s 89-69 win over UP in the first stepladder semifinals game on November 10 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
UP, swallowing a three-game sweep by UST of their matches this season and losing their twice-to-beat advantage as second seed, was left with one last chance to beat UST on November 13 at the Mall of Asia Arena, for the best-of-three finals slot against the undefeated Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles.
Last Sunday UP never took the lead, and in the first quarter only managed to keep UST’s lead from going double-digit. The game’s last deadlock happened early in the first quarter at seven points apiece.
Juan Gomez de Liaño took the cudgels for the Maroons, scoring 20, his season’s best. Bright Akhuetie remained a top-scorer with 19; but season top-scorer Kobe Paras was reduced to a low nine, and point guard Jun Manzo, to zero. Ricci Rivero was within his average at 12 points, making half of these in the last two minutes, when he returned to play after being substituted for scrapes on his right hand.
UST’s Rhenz Abando, Soulemane Chabi Yo, Mark Nonoy, Sherwin Concepcion, and CJ Cansino all scored double-digit. Abando, Nonoy, and Concepcion sank half of their three-point attempts for a total 27 points of the team’s 33 from outside the perimeter, as against UP’s total of nine, all from Gomez de Liaño.
UST led by 19 twice in the third quarter, 50-31 and 52-33. UP was able to cut the gap to just nine, three times in the last quarter, the last of which was at 72-63 with 3:12 left in the game. But UST hammered its way to a bigger lead with two consecutive treys by Concepcion, a block of Akhuetie, and a basket by Chabi Yo at the turn of the last two minutes, raising their lead to 80-63.
Chabi Yo made three more baskets and Nonoy chipped in another three-pointer, rendering Rivero’s six points in the last two minutes for naught.
UP head coach Bo Perasol offered no excuses during the post-game press conference.” The way we played in most of the quarters, there was just no way we could win against UST,” he said. “We couldn’t bring that kind of game to any team. We have to be a lot better.”