In a game that rallied the UP community to a degree rarely seen in the last 32 years, the UP Men’s Basketball Team settled for the runners-up trophy, falling to now back-to-back champions Ateneo Blue Eagles, 99-81 at the Araneta Coliseum on December 5, 2018. It was a passionate showing for the Fighting Maroons and their supporters, who stayed to cheer their boys on long after the contest had been decided.
Ateneo ace Thirdy Ravena, who was forced to shoot from the outside by good defense from Javi Gomez de Liaño, was simply too much for the Maroons. He scored 38 points, including two consecutive 3-pointers in the 4th quarter, which effectively put away any comeback hopes for UP. Fresh from a near-triple double performance in Game 1, Ravena’s point total is the highest in a UAAP Finals game since 2003.
Ange Kouwame, who, before the game, was named the first foreign-born Rookie of the Year in UAAP Men’s Basketball history, was unstoppable in the paint, outplaying the injured Season 81 MVP Bright Akhuetie en route to 22 points of his own, with 20 rebounds. Ateneo’s pick-and-roll plays, with Kouwame as the roll man, were a constant thorn in the side of the Maroons, as the 19-year old Ivorian feasted on smaller defenders off switches with easy dunks all evening.
Despite shooting woes, both from the field and from the line, the Fighting Maroons played intense basketball until the final whistle, led by a resurgent Paul Desiderio and Season 80 Rookie of the Year Juan Gomez de Liaño. They found themselves in an 11-point halftime hole, however, having shot just 35% from the field and getting outrebounded 30-18. These difficulties would persist in the second half, and Ateneo’s lead was never truly threatened from then on.
Desiderio bounced back from his Game 1 struggles to score 15 points, grab 7 rebounds and dish out 3 assists in his last game as a Fighting Maroon. Juan Gomez de Liaño valiantly led most of UP’s runs in the second half, finishing with a team high 24 points and 7 rebounds. Akhuetie, whose left knee brace became a source of controversy and delay before the game, finished with 19 points.
Despite the setback, the UP fans among the more than 23,000 Game 2 attendees, showed their appreciation for the team’s impressive showing throughout the season up until the singing of school hymns. It was the first time since 1986 since the Men’s Basketball Team last had a taste of the Finals, and the team never quit despite seemingly insurmountable odds. (Andre DP. Encarnacion, UP MPRO)