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MANILA, Philippines – Like true warriors, University of the East simply refuses to give up.
The UE Red Warriors stayed in the hunt for a Final Four slot after they squeaked past defending champions De La Salle Green Archers, 68-66, on Wednesday, September 10 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum to take an 8-5 win-loss record in the men’s basketball tournament of UAAP Season 77.
Just last week the entire UE team sat down with management and committed to fighting hard and giving it everything they have left to salvage a Final Four slot. Right now, they’re on a 4-game win streak, defeating other Final Four favoritesa National University, Far Eastern University and now La Salle.
“I think this was a character game for us. We were down by 10 points but the boys kept their poise, We came back, played defense. We made stops,” said UE head coach Derrick Pumaren after the very close win.
“I’m really proud of how the boys played tonight. They did not give up. It was a total team effort. Our battle cry for tonight is we’re going to keep fighting to survive and stay alive.”
UE let that battle cry fuel them, most especially when they saw the Archers overturn UE’s 36-22 halftime lead and rally to build a 61-51 advantage with just over 4 minutes to play in the contest.
La Salle was able to bounce back courtesy of a searing 17-7 third quarter outburst led by Jeron Teng’s 23 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal.
The Archers stayed hot in the fourth, making crisp passes and eluding the Warriors’ pesky hands, as Prince Rivero scored 4 straight points to snatch the lead, 45-43, at the 8-minute mark of the final frame.
UE’s offense remained stagnant from that point on as they were visibly forcing the issue, allowing La Salle to make it a 10-point 61-51 game on an and-one play from Julian Sargent (10 points).
“We know La Salle is the defending champion and they’re going to come back,” Pumaren said.
Resolving not go out without a good fight, UE settled down and once again proved they’ve outgrown their fourth quarter waterloo, mounting a 9-0 counterattack capped by center Charles Mammie’s first field goal of the game to slice the deficit to just 60-61 with 2:04 to play.
Teng tried to stop the shifting momentum with a basket, 60-63, but a free throw from Mammie and a nifty turnaround jumper from veteran Bong Galanza tied the count at 63 with less than a minute remaining.
The tide ultimately turned against La Salle as Dan Alberto (6 points) managed to steal the rock off of Almond Vosotros, which served as the Archeres’ 6th miscue of that period, and ran the floor for a completed three-point play on the break to put UE’s noses ahead, 66-63, with 31.8 ticks on the clock.
Vosotros knocked town a triple with 1.7 seconds left, 67-66, but there was simply not enough time for them to steal the win as Chris Javier (8 points, 6 rebounds) notched the final tally with a split from the line, 68-66.
La Salle, who is assured of at least a playoff for a Final Four spot, fell to 9-4 and could end up tied with the NU Bulldogs should the latter win over the ousted UST Growling Tigers in today’s second game.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. It’s still not over for us,” warned Pumaren.
“We cannot be happy. Hindi pa kami pasok (We’re not in the Final Four yet) and we have to realize that. It was a big win but we’re not there yet.”
Pumaren’s wards were still as frisky as ever defensively, forcing La Salle to 30 turnovers, from which they took 24 points, while La Salle had only 4 points off UE’s 15 miscues.
Galanza and Roi Sumang led UE with 21 and 14 points, respectively. Galanza also added 7 rebounds.
For La Salle, Vosotros scored 11 points as Norbert Torres and Prince Rivero added 7 markers apiece. Rivero also tracked down 11 boards.
The Warriors will have the struggling but hungry UST as their final assignment in the eliminations on Tuesday. UST, who is already booted out of the Final Four, can still play spoiler for the Warriors and remain dangerous.
According to Pumaren, UE just needs to show up with the same kind of mindset they had in this game to come away with the victory.
“We just have to take care of things on Tuesday against UST,” Pumaren said. “We still have to have the same attitude, the same fighting spirit.”
UE (68): Galanza 21, Sumang 14, Javier 8, Alberto 6, Jumao-as 6, Mammie 4, Arafat 3, Varilla 2, De Leon 2, Palma 2, Guiang 0, Olayon 0.
La Salle (66): Teng 23, Vosotros 11, Sargent 10, Torres 7, Rivero 7, Montalbo 6, Van Opstal 2, Perkins 0, Andrada 0.
Quarter scores: 15-13, 36-22, 43-39, 68-66.