The momentum to claim the 84th University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament title is now within reach of the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons.
Top scorer Ricci Rivero and Carl Tamayo once again carried the fortunes of the Fighting Maroons in their hands, as they needed an overtime period to bring down the defending champion Ateneo Blue Eagles, 81-74, in Game 1 of their best-of-three finals series Sunday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Rivero, who led with 19 points, and the 6’7” Tamayo, struck with the winning shots in the last two minutes, handing UP a decisive 79-74 edge.
After that, UP banked on their air-tight defense on Angelo Kouame and the prolific Gian Mamuyac to leave the Blue Eagles scoreless in the remaining time.
“Maraming nangyari sa game on both ends. I just told the boys not to give up and continue with what they’re doing. And be consistent sa game,” said Fighting Maroons’ coach Goldwin Monteverde.
A three-point play by Rivero, who went perfect with 11 out of 11 converted charities, pulled through with his baskets off a foul from Mamuyac in the last 2:31, allowing the Maroons to shatter the game’s final deadlock, 77-74.
Tamayo outran Kouame after he mishandled a pass by Mamayuc, and his driving layup with two minutes left widened UP’s lead by five, 79-74.
The Blue Eagles, who could not cash in on the absence of a fouled out big man Malick Diouf in the extra five minutes, then lost one of their key scorers in SJ Belangel to cramps as they struggled with their perimeter shots with Mamuyac in the last 8.2 seconds.
As UP regained possession in the remaining time, Rivero finalized the count with two more charities at the three-second mark.
The Diliman dribblers, with Zavier Lucero hitting 17 points and hauling down 13 rebounds, now have a fighting chance to claim UP’s first crown in over three decades when they play the Blue Eagles in Game 2 at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
But the Blue Eagles, getting 18 points and 11 rebounds from Kouame, could still equalize and force a deciding Game 3 on Friday.
The Maroons are seeking to end a 36-year title drought, with their first crown coming under coach Joe Lipa in 1986.
James Spencer, who had 13 points, forced a 70-all deadlock with a triple with 24.7 ticks to go.
The Blue Eagles had good chances to win Game 1 in regulation, but a well-defended Kouame and Tyler Tio could not find openings for their baskets inside and outside the paint.
Diouf had 10 points and 15 rebounds before he went out on his fifth foul off Kouame, who initially put Ateneo ahead, 74-72, with two charities in the last 4:42.
It was quite an achievement for Monteverde on his first head coaching job in the collegiate ranks, reaching the UAAP finals and doing the same thing that Baldwin did on his debut year, along with Aldin Ayo.
Ayo was still with the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers when they made the finals as well back in Season 79.