ANTIPOLO—True to its identity this season, University of the Philippines recovered just when it looked like the Fighting Maroons were about to bungle a golden opportunity.
Far Eastern U, meanwhile, showed its inconsistent ways are now a thing of a past.
Together, the Fighting Maroons and Tamaraws are headed to the Final Four with a clear mission: Topple two-time defending champion Ateneo.
The Maroons hammered out another pulsating victory, this time over the De La Salle Green Archers, 71-68, to claim a twice-to-beat advantage for the first time in the Final Four era at Ynares Center here.
The Tamaraws also continued their late-season revival with an emphatic 82-68 triumph over also-ran University of the East that allowed them to join Ateneo (13-0), UP (9-4) and UST (8-6) in the next round.
“Who would have thought we would make it to the Final Four,” said FEU coach Olsen Racela, whose team reached the semifinals for the seventh straight season—the longest active streak in the league even after losing four of their first six games.
“Not a lot of people believed in us except for those within the team and the FEU community. But we’re not done yet. We’ve achieved our goal and we move on to the next.”
The format for the semifinals remains to be determined as Ateneo will still play UP on Wednesday.
A win by the Eagles will complete a 14-game sweep and also hand them an outright finals spot, while forcing a stepladder format with UP holding a twice-to-beat edge against the winner between FEU and UST.
But a UP victory will pave the way for an Ateneo-UST match and an FEU-UP duel with the Eagles and Maroons both armed with a twice-to-beat edge.
The victory bore hallmarks of a typical Maroons’ performance this season: A big and boisterous UP crowd in attendance, an early double-digit lead wasted and a fourth quarter-deficit overhauled with some gutsy, electrifying individual plays.
“The point of everything is what will be our performance come playoff time,” said UP coach Bo Perasol, after the Maroons secured their ninth win in 13 games.
“But today was not just about positioning, but also surviving. There were ups and downs, but we had to win this game for the UP community. They came here in throngs and they’ve supported us all throughout.”
The Maroons can rest easy—for now—after surviving the Archers’ late onslaught heading into the final 2:54 where they faced a four-point deficit.
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