Maroons clinch playoff for Final 4 berth

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    CALL it déjà vu.

    Mirroring a similar escape in their first meeting, University of the Philippines pulled off an 80-77 decision over National University yesterday and clinched at least a playoff match for a Final Four slot in the 82nd UAAP basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

    The Bulldogs pulled to within 77-79 on Shaun Ildefonso’s two free throws in the last 11 seconds. NU still had a chance to force overtime after Fighting Maroons skipper Jun Manzo came up with a split at the stripe but Shaun Ildefonso’s last-gasp triple try missed its mark.

    Six-foot-6 forward Kobe Paras led UP with a team-high 19 points, to go with four rebounds and six assists, while reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie had a double-double of 18 markers and 12 boards, and two dimes.

    Manzo and Juan Gomez also added 14 and 11 points, respectively, as the Maroons, who nipped the Bulldogs 80-79 last Sept. 18, improved to 8-4 and boosted their hold of solo second while the Bulldogs slipped to 2-10.

    In the other game, Far Eastern University sent Adamson University packing with a nail-biting 63-60 win.

    The Soaring Falcons threatened at 60-62 on Senegalese center Lenda Douanga’s basket with 1:55 remaining in the fourth canto. But sophomore playmaker L-Jay Gonzales canned a freebie that gave the Tamaraws a 63-60 buffer with 1:28 to play.

    FEU’s defense made life difficult for Adamson to score from there, with Falcon Jerom Lastimosa missing a trey that could have forced extension.

    Gonzales scored 11 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and had three assists for the Tams while Wendell Comboy had 11 markers and seven caroms. Kenneth Tuffin also tossed in 11 and seven for FEU, which improved to 7-6 for solo fourth and handed Adamson its eight defeat against four wins.

    The Falcons, who finished No. 2 after the eliminations last season, missed the Final Four for the first time since coach Franz Pumaren took over from interim coach Mike Fermin in 2016.

    UP coach Bo Perasol heaped praises on NU for giving his charges fits and added the Maroons need to play better in the playoffs.

    “I’m tempted to say that it wasn’t a game I was foreseeing but you know, I’m also aware of how good NU is. Despite the fact that they’re already out of contention, their spirit is just there,” said Perasol.

    “You have to give it to coach Jamike (Jarin) for motivating his players. But it’s very clear, going deeper into the playoffs, it’s going to need better games from us defensively most especially,” he added.