UP makes it back to the UAAP Finals | Inquirer Sports

After 32 years, UP makes it back to the UAAP Finals on skipper Desiderio’s heroics

By: - Reporter / @cedelfptINQ
/ 05:20 AM November 29, 2018

It was a game that will live long in the memory for University of the Philippines. Brave and resilient when it mattered, the Fighting Maroons ended a 32-year wait for a shot at the biggest prize in college basketball in the country.

In front of a mammoth crowd of almost 21,000, the Fighting Maroons outlasted the Adamson Falcons, 89-87, in overtime on Wednesday night to earn the right to face defending champion Ateneo in UAAP Season 81 finals at Smart Araneta Coliseum.


All those winless seasons and heartbreaking defeats in recent years made the night even more meaningful for the UP faithful as Paul Desiderio, who made the game’s last five points, stood in front of the maroon gallery with his hands up in victory. At the far end of the court, coach Bo Perasol and his players fought back tears.


“The burden is not winning the game, it’s all about making an impact on a community that is hungry for winning,” said Perasol. “For 30 years, we have been the butt of jokes. A lot of our alumni in UP are successful in politics, business and judiciary, but the basketball team didn’t have the bragging rights. We needed a moment that could unite them in a way.”

For a change, it was tears of joy for the Maroons, who rode Juan Gomez de Liaño’s early explosion, before turning to Desiderio for the biggest shots down the stretch.

Desiderio nailed the jumper from nine feet out over Sean Manganti with six seconds remaining as the Maroons completed their stunning reversal over the Falcons, who entered the Final Four with a twice-to-beat edge. That advantage was erased last Saturday when Bright Akhuetie hit the game-winner in a 73-71 victory.

“I’m very, very happy especially since I am graduating already,” Desiderio said in Filipino. “Whatever chance we have in the Finals, we’re going to grab it.”

Both teams traded big shots in regulation with Adamson guard Jerom Lastimosa sending the game into overtime by banking in a three-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining.

The Falcons took an 84-78 lead but Diego Dario knocked in a jumper out of the timeout, Juan Gomez de Liaño scored on an acrobatic layup and Bright Akhuetie tied the game at 84.


But Diego Dario knocked in a jumper out of the timeout, Juan Gomez de Liano scored on an acrobatic layup and Bright Akhuetie tipped in a De Liano miss to tie the game at 84.

Adamson briefly took the lead with a Jonathan Espeleta split, before Desiderio nailed a wide open trey with 41 seconds remaining for an 87-85 lead.

After Lastimosa’s two free throws, the Maroons put the ball in Desiderio’s hands and UP’s leader, who missed 16 of his first 19 shots, cemented his status as a legend with the shot that iced the final count.

Gomez de Liaño fired a career-high 30 points, while Desiderio finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Hobbling in the second half, Akhuetie tallied 13 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.

“This team will fight no matter what,” said Perasol. “The first overtime, a lot of us wanted to give up.

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“I told them this was a bridge we needed to cross in order to be considered a successful program,” said Perasol. “This was the bridge to greatness that we needed to cross.”

The Maroons will have little time to prepare as they face the Eagles in Game 1 on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena. This early, Perasol said he is embracing the underdog tag for his team.

TAGS: Adamson Falcons, Ateneo Blue Eagles, Basketball, Fighting Maroons, University of the Philippines

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