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MANILA, Philippines – The UP Fighting Maroons made good on their lofty preseason expectations as they clinched the UAAP Season 86 top seed in emphatic fashion with a 79-57 throttling of the third-ranked NU Bulldogs on Sunday, November 19.
From a massive 17-2 start to a 25-point peak, 79-54, late in the fourth, UP showed a level of all-around dominance not experienced by the league’s other contenders and rolled to the first-ever top seed in Fighting Maroons’ history since the implementation of the Final Four system in 1994.
Heading to the semifinals against the winner of the fourth-seed playoff between defending champion Ateneo and underdog Adamson, team veterans CJ Cansino and Malick Diouf expect to lean on their own championship experience and lead by example for the youngster-laden Maroons.
“For me, I don’t think you could teach experience, but you can teach effort,” Cansino said in Filipino. “Coach Gold (Monteverde) just keeps on telling us to keep on pounding, and if we give our best, we will be okay with whatever the results will be.”
“I think they are all ready because they know what’s waiting for them. I think, for now, they played 14 games, so they are excited to play in the semis and have a common goal,” Diouf added. “I don’t think there is any doubt about the boys.”
Including Diouf and Cansino, only six of the 16 Maroons fielded this season were part of UP’s championship-winning team in Season 84.
Many core players of the Season 86 rotation, like top rookie Francis Lopez, and transferees Janjan Felicilda and Reyland Torres, are also just about to make their Final Four debuts as a part of the Maroons this Saturday, November 25, at the Araneta Coliseum.
Still, the sheer talent of this UP batch is simply undeniable. In practically a championship-or-bust season, Monteverde is not taking their current success for granted, as more challenges await him and his young group of stars.
“[The top seed] is just a result of our hard work. None of this was planned out apart from taking it one game at a time,” he said in Filipino. “Whatever comes your way, you just have to prepare just to fight over every challenge, and we’re thankful of where we are now.”
“But again, it’s not yet done.” – Rappler.com