MANILA, Philippines – The UP Fighting Maroons’ worst nightmare for their men’s basketball title defense has come true.
Days before their UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball finals do-or-die Game 3 against the Ateneo Blue Eagles, UP star forward Zavier Lucero tore his left ACL on an awkward non-contact drive last Game 2, the team confirmed on Friday, December 16.
As first reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the 6-foot-7 forward tearfully told his teammates to carry on the title defense as he revealed he can no longer play for the winner-take-all game on Monday, December 19, at the Araneta Coliseum.
UP now finds its frontcourt dangerously thin as only reserve Henry Galinato, seldom-used JB Lina, two-time Mythical Five member Carl Tamayo, and newly crowned MVP Malick Diouf are left as true frontline threats among a bevy of guards.
However, even the very top of that frontcourt rotation is not free of troubles as Diouf has been bogged down by foul trouble in the first two games of the finals, while Tamayo is still recovering from his own leg issues from earlier in the season.
In UP’s Game 2 loss, fresh off his MVP coronation, Diouf only scored 2 points, albeit with 11 rebounds in just 16 minutes of action after having just 18 minutes in the Game 1 win.
“I just think we need to play the right way. The beginning was okay, but in the second, especially me, I got two fouls easily. We just need to catch up,” he said.
“It really affected me, the way I was playing. I was thinking we’re out of control but it happens. We just have to make sure we’re composed.”
Meanwhile, Tamayo only had 7 points and 4 boards in a 16-minute Game 1 run before taking over the Game 2 comeback effort with 15 points in 23 minutes.
“I think I’m only at 80 to 90% in this finals,” he added in Filipino. “Coaches are telling me that I will only be 100% after the season, but I just try my best even with an ailment. There are times my hamstring gets sore, but [no excuse], this is the finals.”
“Earlier, I was also battling some psychological issues from that injury, but as time goes on, I’m getting back my rhythm.”
The entire UP community now hopes Diouf and Tamayo can bounce back for their fallen brother as the Maroons’ title defense now hangs in the balance against a healthy Ateneo side armed with winning momentum. – Rappler.com