UP Maroons: You can’t lose ’em all
It had all the trappings of a championship triumph.
With a bonfire to boot, the University of the Philippines (UP) basked in a euphoric celebration yesterday as the UP Fighting Maroons scored their first victory in two years in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
A tad too much?
Certainly not for this squad that, statistically, had a less than 10 percent chance of winning.
“This win means so much, I know it means so much for the UP community,” UP forward JR Gallarza said after the Maroons blasted the Adamson Falcons, 77-64, to snap a 27-game losing skid.
“I know they’ve been struggling supporting us, even through the big blows that we put them through—27 in a row. This just really goes out to them, to really thank them.”
For the long-suffering diehards of UP, the Maroons are now halfway through what they could consider a winning season.
In reality, the game was a mere footnote. In a battle between two winless squads—a UP side that has been wallowing in misery for decades against a rookie-laden Adamson squad—something had to give.
“We prepared very well for this game. We prepared more for this game than the others,” admitted UP guard Mikee Reyes. “It’s not an excuse for the other games that we lost by a lot. But this game, we really wanted this game. We really felt that in this game, we could actually get a win.”
The Maroons liked their chances for the first time in a long while. And a winning attitude has truly been hard to come by for a squad that dropped all 14 games last season.
And in the last eight seasons, the Maroons have won only a woeful 10 games in 105 outings. If you do the math, that’s a winning rate of 9 percent.
So for the Maroons faithful who had endured so many heartaches, a bonfire celebration was in order. It was held starting at 6 p.m. yesterday at Sunken Garden on the UP Diliman campus, the fire burning well into the night on a cauldron that was used for the state university’s centennial celebration in 2008.
And the Twitter frenzy that followed was quite understandable, too. #CongratsUP became the No. 1 trending topic in the Philippines yesterday afternoon and even hit the worldwide trends. The word #bonfire also had a cameo in the local trends.
A @UPBonfire Twitter account quickly came up and posted: “Parang Pasko +INC centennial + Papal Visit +World Cup + Pacquiao fight po ang atmosphere sa UP mamaya. Yun na po yun. #UPFight”
UP alumni-politicians also extended their congratulations to their alma mater that has a long tradition of academic excellence yet has been at the tail end in the sport closest to the Filipinos’ hearts. The Maroons, then headed by Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc and Eric Altamirano, last won the UAAP basketball championship in 1986.
“Congratulations @UPMaroons! Basketball is not my passion, but this I love! #Upfight,” Sen. Pia Cayetano, a former UP volleyball team captain, said on Twitter.
Victory has many fathers. Two senators have staked a claim on the Maroons’ victory, as Sen. Chiz Escudero donated the Nike shoes that the players wore yesterday while Sen. Sonny Angara also gave the squad a flat-screen television for game-viewing in practice.
“Swerte yung mga sapatos na bigay ni @SayChiz sa mga Maroons! #UPFight” @krizzy_kalerQUI said on Twitter.
Another post by @UPBonfire also asked Angara: “@sonnyangara May Senate resolution po ba ang UP alumni sa Senado congratulating the UP Maroons? Sana tuition rollback na lang po :) #UPFight”
It was also no surprise that the university that has produced some of the country’s best minds also dished out some of the best jokes in yesterday’s social media party.
Twitter celebrity Professional Heckler (@HecklerForever), also a known avid UP supporter, posted: “BREAKING: Malacañang lauds UP, Maroon victory makes President Aquino cry.”
Later, Heckler added: “Partida… wala pang coach ang UP. JK”
The Maroons scored their breakthrough triumph with head coach Rey Madrid serving the last game of his two-game suspension.
Madrid got slapped with the penalty for accusing the referees of point shaving last week after a narrow loss to the University of Santo Tomas.
“Everyone was thinking about this one,” said Reyes, who sizzled with a career-high 28 points. “They consider this the championship game for last place. The intensity of the game, the hype—we were ready for this. We knew that everyone [was] going to be there. Our friends, supporters, even the doubters were here actually.”
The Maroons savored the cheers of their biggest crowd yet in the arena, but for Gallarza, who also shone with 24 points, the victory was also a bit bittersweet.
“It took this to bring out the UP crowd and I just wish that it would be like that,” said Gallarza, one of UP’s finest student-athletes who is a magna cum laude candidate of the College of Education. “For the environment to be like that, it would feel like an even matchup in terms of fan support. That definitely gave us such a big boost. And I know it just provided the energy for us to sustain up until the fourth quarter, even if Adamson was going on a run.”
The Maroons, of course, don’t want the celebration to end here.
“All teams start with a first win,” said new UP team manager Dan Palami, the national football team godfather who hopes that the Maroons can duplicate the rise of the Azkals from mediocrity.
“Hopefully, this is a start for us. Baby steps. I hope we will make more steps,” he said.
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