Bright Akhuetie bucked early foul trouble and Paul Desiderio came out in razor-sharp form as University of the Philippines moved on the cusp of its best season in 14 years after bundling out University of Santo Tomas with an emphatic 83-69 victory Saturday night in UAAP Season 81 at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Imposing his will in the second half, Akhuetie sizzled for 26 points, while Paul Desiderio finished with 19 points as the Fighting Maroons climbed to solo fourth with a 7-7 record, while eliminating the Tigers from the Final Four race.
The Maroons have now matched their record in 2004 and another win against La Salle on Wednesday will guarantee them at least a playoff for a Final Four berth. And if Far Eastern U loses to National U on Sunday, that clash with the Green Archers could be the game where the Maroons will clinch their first Final Four berth since 1997.
“The best thing that this win has done for us is to place us in a position to fight for that slot,” said UP head coach Bo Perasol. “We have to put this win behind us. We cannot over think this because there is a much more crucial game on Wednesday.”
The Maroons pounced on the absence of UST rookie sensation CJ Cansino who left the game with an apparent knee injury midway in the second period.
Earlier, Adamson overcame a slow start as it ripped University of the East, 85-72, to gain at least a playoff for a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
The Falcons trailed by 17 in the first five and a half minutes of the game, before finding their groove as Sean Manganti and Jerrick Ahanmisi got going to rouse Adamson out of its funk.
“Sometimes, you have a flat start thinking that the other team would just roll over,” said coach Franz Pumaren, whose team improved to 10-3. “Good thing we were able to regroup.”
Ahanmisi and Manganti combined for 42 points, including nine in another 14-0 run in the final period that handed the Falcons a 67-59 lead with five minutes to go.
“We’re not the type of team that you can define as swashbuckling that can blow out teams by 20, 30 points,” said Pumaren. “We’re a hardworking, blue-collar type of a team. We thrive on trying to make the other team really work hard for their points.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.