One down, one to go
Juan Gomez de Liaño and Bright Akhuetie tried perfecting an alley-oop play during practice on Friday night and got disappointing results.
With the stakes higher, the lights brighter and the crowd significantly larger, the duo completed a less than scintillating play that led UP to a 73-71 victory over Adamson at Mall of Asia Arena on Saturday to take their UAAP Final Four match-up to a deciding game and fan the flames of a first title series appearance in ages.
“It was just a drill [on Friday]night. Juan made that alley-oop pass to Bright, [but] he missed [the shot],” said coach Bo Perasol after the mammoth celebration on the floor among UP’s faithful died down.
De Liaño and Akhuetie completed the play that mattered in this game with two seconds left as the Maroons came out on top of a wild game that had UP blowing command and rallying when everything seemed lost in the stretch.
It was not all De Liaño and Akhuetie for the Maroons, though, with graduating gunslinger Paul Desiderio responsible for keeping UP in the game with 17 second half points, capped by a difficult jumper that gave them a 71-69 lead with under six seconds left.
“At the back of my mind, how can we disappoint these people who are supporting us? I was actually praying: ‘Just give us a good game that these people could be proud,’” said Perasol as the Maroons shoot for a title series berth on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Trailing by as many as 13, Adamson turned things around with a 17-6 run to set the tables up for the edge-of-your-seat finish.
Sean Manganti, who was behind that rally, put the Falcons up by four before Christopher Vito and De Liaño conspired to knot it at 69 with 49 ticks remaining.
That was before Desiderio hit that bold step-back jumper from the left side that gave UP the lead—albeit briefly—as Manganti forged the last deadlock with two free throws on the other end.
Akhuetie, the Most Valuable Player, was held down to just four before the winning basket by the tight Adamson defense.
“Winning against Adamson is not easy,” Perasol noted. “We have things that we need to adjust on when we get back to the drawing board. But my guys just made a play when it mattered. Juan made a great pass to Bright. Paul made that jump shot when it was needed.”
“Everybody just contributed. There was a time when we got ahead. For sure, some are thinking we could’ve won it right away. But Adamson is not No. 2 and 10-4 for nothing. They’re very resilient,” he added.
Franz Pumaren couldn’t agree more.
“I guess we should’ve gotten this victory despite of us playing bad,” he said. “It’s a very good sign. We played bad, we were down the whole game. but when we played the right system, our brand of game, we were able to get back the lead.”
“We’re disappointed, but you got to give them (Maroons) credit,” Manganti said. “They played a great game. They made some clutch baskets, so you got to give it up to them.”
UP 73 – Desiderio 19, Gomez de Liano Ju 19, Manzo 9, Gomez de Liano Ja 9, Akhuetie 6, Prado 4, Dario 3, Jaboneta 2, Vito 2, Murrell 0, Gozum 0, Lim 0, Tungcab 0
ADAMSON 71 – Sarr 23, Manganti 15, Ahanmisi 9, Camacho 8, Lastimosa 7, Espeleta 5, Magbuhos V 4, Pingoy 0, Mojica 0, Catapusan 0, Bernardo 0
Quarters: 17-16, 28-29, 54-43, 73-71