UAAP finals: With season on the line, Fighting Maroons’ resilience will be tested

More is expected of Paul Desiderio, held to just 5 points in Game 1, if the Fighting Maroons hope to extend the series to a third and deciding game. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines—University of the Philippines (UP) is banking on the lessons it learned in the final 4 when the Fighting Maroons take on Ateneo de Manila University in a do-or-die Game 2 of the UAAP Season 81 finals at Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday.

After an 88-79 loss in Game 1 of the best-of-3 title series on Saturday, the Fighting Maroons find themselves in a must-win situation against the defending champions who are looking to clinch a second straight UAAP championship.

Game time is at 3:30 p.m.

This marks the third time in the postseason that UP will play a do-or-die game. Its collective backs were also against the wall in both games against Adamson University in the semifinals, but pulled through in each contest in heart-stopping fashion.

UP coach Bo Perasol hopes the lessons his team learned from its final 4 meeting against the Soaring Falcons will serve them well against the Blue Eagles.

“Before, kung wala kaming experience sa Adamson, palagay ko third quarter bumigay na kami. But nagkaroon kami ng experience sa Adamson, so umabot kami hanggang fourth quarter,” Perasol said after losing Game 1.

“But then again, we have to finish it off. I keep on telling them, this is the finals, you cannot sleep, and not give them a chance, ‘yung mga ganoon ba,” he added. “I think that’s just the mindset, na when we do it, we have to do it all the way.”

“I can always remind them that we did that against Adamson.”

The Fighting Maroons were also underdogs against the Soaring Falcons, who owned a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals. But they beat Adamson in the first game 73-71 off a Bright Akhuetie game-winner to force a decider. In Game 2, Paul Desiderio nailed the go-ahead jumper in overtime for an 89-87 win, sending UP to its first finals in 32 years.

Perasol is upbeat that the Fighting Maroons can keep their Cinderella run going, even against an Ateneo team that has been business-like in its defense of the UAAP crown.

“We’re very positive. That’s the truth,” he said.

“I mean, sabi ko nga, before we came into the series, parang iniisip mo, parang paano ba tayo bubugbugin nito,” he acknowledged. “But ngayon, dahil sa ang paniniwala nila, we just decided that, ‘Hey, we need to try, we need to find out how can, ano ba ang magagawa natin.'”

The coach has stressed to his team that reaching the finals “is not an accident.” 

“They did it themselves. Kasi minsan, baka akala nila, mirakulo naman kung mirakulo, pero I mean, they did it. Hindi naman ‘yun something na nangyari lang,” Perasol added.

And after going toe-to-toe with the Blue Eagles in Game 1, the Fighting Maroons may just be starting to believe their coach’s sentiment.

“(Game 1) gave us again a takeaway na parang, na beatable (ang Ateneo),” said Perasol. “Kasi before hindi eh, wala namang nagbigay ng chance sa amin . . . Pero ito, naramdaman nila, ‘Uy, kaya pala natin.'”

Perasol is hoping to have Bright Akhuetie available for the contest, as the Nigerian big man remains a game-time decision after suffering a hyperextended left knee in Game 1. 

The coach said he also expects a better scoring performance from Desiderio, who was held to only 5 points on 2-of-6 shooting by the Ateneo defense last Saturday. Jun Manzo (19 points) and Diego Dario (9 points) look to continue their breakout performances as well.

On the defensive end, UP will try to contain Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena, who had 27 and 21 points, respectively, in Game 1.

For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.

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