Bright Akhuetie was everything University of the Philippines hoped he would be in his much-anticipated debut in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
That’s the good news. The better news?
He feels he has much more to offer.
Akhuetie had 15 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks as the Fighting Maroons opened their Season 81 campaign with a rousing 87-58 victory over University of the East’s Red Warriors Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.
“Feels great,” Akhuetie said. “For me it’s the same basketball. I just condition myself and go out there and play.”
The Nigerian center, who began his collegiate career with the Perpetual Help Altas in the NCAA before transferring to UP, was a man among boys in the paint.
And he hasn’t even flexed his muscles yet.
“Not yet,” Akhuetie said when asked if he is already at 100 percent.
The 6-foot-7 Akhuetie provided the inside presence on both ends especially in the second half, where the Maroons broke the game wide open after a deadlock at 33 at the break.
The Maroons took a 58-45 lead into the fourth before Javi Gomez de Liaño stretched it to 72-50 after conniving with brother Juan for a layup.
UP hardly needed the big guy after the third quarter, giving Akhuetie time to reflect on their big opening day victory.
“We can’t get too excited because it’s the first game. We got to go back and work harder,” he said.
“This is just the start,” said UP coach Bo Perasol. “I’m just happy we’re able to get this win and hope we could capitalize on this momentum.”
Paul Desiderio added 12 points, despite missing 13 of his 18 shots, and 10 rebounds.
In the second game, National U also used a strong third quarter but needed a lot of nerves—and a lot of breaks—in the stretch before escaping with a 75-70 victory over University of Santo Tomas.
Rookie Dave Ildefonso, after a jittery start, came up huge for NU, knocking down 20 points to go with seven rebounds, four assists and a steal to help hold off UST.
The host Bulldogs were up, 33-28, at the half, when they went on a major tear to build the lead up to 17. But the Tigers fought back behind rookie CJ Cansino and came within reach several times in the stretch—once to within four, 72-68, on a tip-in by Steve Akomo.
But the Tigers simply could not stretch their last-gasp run, falling into turnovers and missed shots to allow NU to cement the victory.
“Coaches were not satisfied. We played really good in the third quarter but we didn’t play selfless in the fourth quarter that only shows that we really have a young team,” said NU coach Jamike Jarin.
“But like what I’ve been telling everybody especially these young men, we have to mature fast in order to compete this season.”
Shaun Ildefonso, Dave’s older brother, added a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds while Issa Gaye anchored NU’s defense with seven blocks, throwing in six points and four rebounds to boot.
Cansino led the Tigers with 20 points and nine rebounds to lead the Tigers.
Hurting UST was its frost-bitten shooting, with guards Renzo Subido and Marvin Lee combining for 8-of-43 from the field.
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