Maroons shatter Eagles’ myth of invincibility after unbeaten two-year run
University of the Philippines (UP) coach Goldwin Monteverde, still trying to process the Maroons’ mammoth upset of three-time defending champion Ateneo on Sunday night, wanted to pause for a while as he let what just happened sink in.
“I’d like to think about it when we get to the hotel,” Monteverde said after steering the Maroons to an 84-83 stunner over the Eagles that broke the defending champions’ 39-game winning streak in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament before a huge Mall of Asia Arena crowd.
And after that short time that he asked for, Monteverde knew exactly what was ahead for him and his gritty Maroons.
“We need to prepare for La Salle [in the Final Four],” he said after the Maroons dealt the Eagles their first defeat since 2018 for the best morale boost they could ask for heading into the semifinals where they have a twice-to-beat incentive over the Green Archers being the No. 2 seeded squad.
“[Going into] the last two games we [knew we already] have the twice-to-beat incentive,” said Monteverde. “But we are looking for improvement. This [win] is a big factor for us going into Final Four. Whatever we did in our last two games, we learned a lot from it.”
The Maroons have clustered four straight wins which they hope could fuel their drive for a first title since Season 49.
“This [win] is a big thing for us, hopefully we can sustain this,” added Monteverde.
Ricci Rivero sank two free throws in the final 22 seconds to give UP the upper hand after Dave Ildefonso made it 83-82 with 32.4 seconds to go.
This was after UP tried to stay its course after Ateneo climbed out from holes as deep as 18 points in the first half to even lead late in the fourth period.
Earlier, even without its key players, La Salle made things easier for everyone by booting out National University (NU) to complete the Final Four.
Flashy guard Deschon Winston and towering center Justin Baltazar were kept on the bench, probably to keep them fresh for the next round, but the Archers still proved too much for the Bulldogs, scoring a 76-65 victory.
La Salle’s ninth victory in 14 games removed all the complications for the composition of the semifinalists, as Far Eastern University (FEU) got a free ride to join No. 1 Ateneo and second-ranked University of the Philippines.
“Right now, our mindset is to go get one more win to make the Final Four,” said FEU coach Olsen Racela before the La Salle-NU match and right after their 109-65 rout of University of Santo Tomas earlier that gave the Tamaraws a 7-7 slate.
Left out in the cold was Adamson, which was hoping for a Far Eastern loss to forge a playoff for No. 4.
The Falcons pulled out a 65-53 victory that sealed a winless season for University of the East in the first game. Adamson closed out with a 6-8 record.
The Tamaraws did get to the Final Four without a hitch, but the road will be quite an uphill one for them to advance.
Being the last team in, FEU can only make the Finals by beating the Eagles two straight times. And considering that the Tamaraws will be facing an Ateneo team coming from its first loss in two seasons, that would be a mammoth task with the giant awakened.
Bryan Sajonia topscored for the Tamaraws with 27 points, while RJ Abarrientos added 11.
Relaxed Draft rule
Meanwhile, the UAAP said on Sunday that it will allow its players to declare for the coming PBA Rookie Draft set May 15 without them losing eligibility for their final games of the collegiate season.
Executive director lawyer Rebo Saguisag announced the relaxation of the UAAP’s rules.
“Yes they will be allowed to join the draft without fear of being disqualified from participating in the last two games, probably, of the UAAP,” Saguisag said.
The deadline of application for the Draft is on May 7 and aspirants can withdraw until May 13.