Maroons and Archers battle for UAAP title
And then there are two, who, by all accounts after disposing of their Final Four foes with relative ease and how they have played leading to the title series, are the ones most deserving of claiming the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball championship.
University of the Philippines (UP) and La Salle will dispute the title for the first time in league history, and both will come into Game 1 of the best-of-three series on Wednesday like the proverbial runaway freight trains on a collision course.
And that promises to be the best cage theater collegiate hoops can offer in recent years.
“This is my last playing year, this is very special for me and I need to finish with something good,” said Malick Diouf, the anchor of the Fighting Maroons’ defense and inside game who is set to graduate. “We (the Maroons) have a common goal, and finishing with a trophy will be good and great for me. And I think we can do it.”
The Green Archers will be entering the Finals with a nine-game winning streak, a string of victories that started, interestingly enough, after a 67-64 loss to UP in the first round.
And after not being in the title series since Season 80 when it lost to Ateneo, La Salle has all the motivation it needs. And it helps that first year coach Topex Robinson continues to drill that in his Green Archers’ heads.
“When I took the job, I told [the Green Archers]: It’s either you win a championship or die trying,” Robinson said. “If you’re representing a program that’s rich with tradition, you’re put in a position to honor the team and the players that came before you.
“The championships that they have won, I just told them that we were not a part of it. We could etch our own names in that rich tradition and we have the opportunity now.”
UP, which topped the eliminations with a 12-2 record, and La Salle, who closed out at 11-3, split their clashes in the eliminations, with the Archers coming away with an 88-79 second round win.
A La Salle stalwart, Evan Nelle, will also be having his swan song here, and like Diouf, would like to go out in style.
But unlike the UP big man, the heady 5-foot-10 guard is still searching for his first title.
Nelle will also face a familiar foe in JD Cagulangan, the Season 84 hero of the Maroons. The two ha
ve been on opposite sides since high school with Nelle bannering San Beda and Cagulangan, La Salle Green Hills.“I’ve been up against him since high school. Someone asked me a while ago who I was excited to play against in the Final Four, I said JD,” revealed Nelle. “I haven’t played against him this whole season so it’s gonna be a tough match up. When I play him, we try to outsmart each other.”
UP’s towering front line will be a problem for La Salle, but Robinson believes he has the solution to give La Salle a long-awaited championship.
“[The Maroons are] loaded with superstar players. The only way to beat that team is to outwork them and that’s really gonna be our main focus. Just doing the right thing all the time even if you don’t feel like doing it. We have to bring our discipline against UP,” Robinson said.
“We know UP has been here for the longest time. They have a great team and we just wanna keep on competing against the best. For six years we haven’t reached the Finals, so we just wanna make sure that we remember what brought us here. What brought us the wins, the culture that we built, the winning is gonna be a byproduct of that,” he went on. INQ