MANILA, Philippines – University of the Philippines’ star player Juan Gomez de Liaño wasn’t even born yet the last time the Maroons reached the UAAP Final Four.
Yes, it has been that long.
But UP finally put an end to two decades of misery as the Maroons surprisingly routed the La Salle Green Archers, 97-81, to clinch a semifinal berth for the first time in 21 years.
The Maroons came out charging from the get-go and kept the Green Archers at a safe distance – more than 20 points for most of the game – on the way to nailing the No. 3 spot on the penultimate day of the men’s basketball eliminations at the Mall of Asia Arena on Wednesday, November 14.
Gomez de Liaño unleashed 27 points on top of 4 assists and 3 rebounds to lead the Maroons to the crucial win, which set the stage for a semifinal showdown between UP and the No. 2 Adamson Falcons.
Juan’s brother Javi also came to play, unloading 19 points and Bright Akhuetie grabbed 20 rebounds to go with 16 markers for the Maroons, who snapped the league’s longest active Final Four drought.
The Maroons last reached the Final Four in 1997.
UP wrapped up its elimination campaign with an 8-6 slate, the same record as La Salle, and possibly even Far Eastern University if the Tamaraws win on Sunday. But the Maroons secured the No. 3 spot – even if the 3 schools wound up in a three-way logjam – due to a superior quotient.
The spirited Maroons erupted to a 14-point lead, 37-23, off Juan Gomez de Liaño’s fourth triple midway through the 2nd.
UP would extend that lead to 26, 59-33, off a wide-open layup from Jun Manzo in the 7:20 mark of the 3rd.
La Salle made a small charge in the 4th, but the Maroons answered with three straight long bombs from Javi Gomez de Liaño and Paul Desiderio, 84-62, with over 5 minutes left in regulation.
Justin Baltazar paced La Salle with 22 points and 7 boards while Aljun Melecio chipped in 19 markers and 6 assists.
UP 97 – Ju. Gomez de Liaño 27, Ja. Gomez de Liaño 19, Akhuetie 16, Desiderio 10, Manzo 6, Jaboneta 5, Dario 5, Tungcab 3, Gozum 2, Lim 2, Prado 2, Murrell 0, Vito 0.
DLSU 81 – Baltazar 22, Melecio 19, Caracut 12, Samuel 8, Santillan 6, Montalbo 5, Serrano 5, Bates 2, Manuel 2, Dyke 0.
Quarters: 25-17, 52-29, 75-54, 97-81.