MANILA, Philippines – The UP Fighting Maroons bucked a very solid challenge from the NU Bulldogs to book a return trip to the UAAP finals off a 69-61 win at the Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday, December 7.
Presumptive Season 85 MVP Malick Diouf showed off his leadership capabilities in full force with a huge double-double of 17 points and 21 rebounds with 3 blocks, while Zavier Lucero bounced back from a 0-of-11 shooting game against Ateneo with 12 points, 11 boards, 5 assists, 3 swats, and 2 steals.
The Maroons closed out with an 11-0 run after trailing at 58-61 to shut the door on the Bulldogs, who had hoped to force a winner-take-all Final Four match.
One of the game’s main heroes as well was two-way guard Gerry Abadiano, who drilled an open mid-range jumper to get UP within 60-61 with 2:40 left.
Two possessions later, Abadiano then stripped the rock from NU and raced the other way for the uncontested go-ahead layup, 63-61, with 1:49 to play.
Following another key stop, JD Cagulangan once again put his hero cape to drill the dagger three with 53.3 ticks left, leading to another great defensive sequence where Harold Alarcon swatted Patrick Yu’s three-point attempt to practically seal the deal.
Abadiano only had 7 points and 6 boards in 14 minutes, but he racked up a staggering plus-minus of +23 in the tight win, while Alarcon had 2 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block with a +22 in 23 minutes.
Former UAAP high school MVP Jake Figueroa paced the season-ending loss with 16 points and 14 rebounds, while Kean Baclaan scored 14 with 5 assists, 4 boards, and 2 steals.
Graduating gunner John Lloyd Clemente disappeared in his eventual farewell game with just 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting, while graduating forward RJ Minerva squeezed out 2 points and 3 boards in just 4 minutes on the floor.
UP now awaits the winner of the No. 1 versus No. 4 series between the twice-to-beat Ateneo Blue Eagles and the Adamson Soaring Falcons later in the day at 6 pm.
UP 69 – Diouf 17, Lucero 12, Gonzales 11, Cagulangan 8, Abadiano 7, Fortea 6, Tamayo 6, Alarcon 2, Spencer 0, Galinato 0, Torculas 0.
NU 61 – Figueroa 16, Baclaan 14, Malonzo 11, John 8, Yu 2, Clemente 2, Enriquez 2, Mahinay 2, Minerva 2, Galinato 2, Manansala 0, Palacielo 0, Tibayan 0.
Quarters: 17-19, 35-38, 54-45, 69-61.