AFTER University of the Philippines clinched the No. 2 seeding in the 82nd UAAP basketball tournament last Sunday, the Fighting Maroons celebrated at their dugout like they have just won the title.
For good reason.
UP’s gripping 71-68 squeaker over hard-fighting La Salle enabled the Maroons to bag the coveted No. 2 seed rewarded with a twice-to-beat advantage whether in the Final Four or in the stepladder semifinals.
By hiking its record to 9-4, UP will wound up No. 2, its highest elimination round finish since the Final Four format was introduced in 1994, even if it loses to defending two-time champion Ateneo tomorrow in their highly-anticipated second round duel before an expected SRO crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“We just have to prepare hard for the next coming games. But right now, we were at least given the chance to be proud of what we have done,” said Maroons coach Bo Perasol.
“At least, probably right now we’re No. 2, but the point of everything else is come playoff time, what is going to be our performance,” he added.
UP advanced to the Final Four last season as the third-ranked squad and defied the odds by beating twice-to-beat Adamson University in their Final Four clash to reach the finals for the first time after 32 years. The Maroons, however, were swept by the Blue Eagles in the Big Dance.
Forward Kobe Paras said UP’s strong eliminations campaign meant a lot to the long-suffering Katipunan faithful.
“It means a lot just because what I told one of the people I was talking to earlier is that UP hasn’t been in this situation in a long time,” said the 6-foot-6 Paras. “So, I’m just really grateful that we did our best today. I just can’t wait to go back to practice tomorrow and get ready for Wednesday.”
Reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie carried the Maroons on his broad shoulders with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Ricci Rivero, formerly a mainstay of the Green Archers, tossed in 12 markers, five boards, and two assists.
Jun Manzo and Paras added 11 and 10, respectively.
Ateneo manhandled UP 89-63 in their first meeting last Sept. 28 where Perasol was ejected and eventually meted a three-game suspension that was reduced to two games for charging at referee Jaime Rivano.
An Eagles victory tomorrow will earn them an outright finals slot.