By now, University of the Philippines coach Bo Perasol is used to watching his Fighting Maroons walk the tightrope before pulling out a victory in UAAP Season 82.
But a part of the UP mentor is also waiting for the day when everything falls into place for his star-studded team—when even the toughest of situations will hardly trouble the Maroons.
Time and again this season, UP has shown it is more than capable of handling pressure-packed scenarios.
Dragged into another tight contest, the Maroons needed cushion free throws from Jun Manzo to complete a thrilling 80-77 win over the National U Bulldogs on Wednesday and close in on a Final Four spot at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“What’s important is how we win in the end,” Perasol said. “That mind-set, despite what happened in the first, second, third, fourth quarter, we win in the last 20 seconds, 10 seconds, that matters. That’s what matters the most and for me, we just have to align ourselves.”
Perasol understands how his team has struggled to deal with the expectations this
“I was telling them that even though we are on the brink of getting into the Final Four, they’re not [supposed to be] that excited because the expectations are a little bit higher than that,” said Perasol, whose team faces La Salle on Sunday.
The Maroons looked on course to break away late after Kobe Paras nailed a triple for a 77-70 lead with 3:02 remaining. But just like its past outings, UP suddenly went cold at a crucial stretch in the game, allowing the Bulldogs to stay in the thick of the fight.
Paras had another stellar game with 19 points, four rebounds and six assists while Bright Akhuetie chipped in 16 points and 12 boards for UP, which has now won two straight.
Manzo finished with 14 points while Juan Gomez de Liaño added 11 points and 11 boards.
Manzo made three of his four foul shots inside the final 13 seconds to seal another tight win, but the Maroons were once again made to wait to clinch a spot in the next phase after De La Salle overcame University of Santo Tomas, 80-79, in the third game.
The Tamaraws eliminated the Adamson Falcons with a 63-60 victory earlier, while rising to a 7-6 for fourth spot.
Providing La Salle a lift when it needed it the most, Jamie Malonzo, Aljun Melecio and Brandon Bates all came through with big games as the Archers climbed to 6-6, while denying the Growling Tigers—and the Maroons—an outright Final Four spot.
Justine Baltazar also dished out a solid output of 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“As you know, the standings are really tight, and we’re happy that we kind of responded well, the players responded with urgency today,” coach Gian Nazario said.
Playing in his one and only year of eligibility for La Salle, Malonzo finished with a game-high 23 points, including an electrifying reverse dunk in the final period, while Melecio poured 11 of his 18 points in the last two periods for the Archers, who are still in fifth spot, just half a game behind Far Eastern U.
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