MANILA, Philippines -- University of the Philippines (UP) pushed its winning streak to eight games on Tuesday, but not before surviving a scare from Far Eastern University (FEU) at the Mall of Asia Arena.
A baseline jumper by MVP-candidate Zavier Lucero with 1:26 to play put the Fighting Maroons ahead for good. Despite missed free throws by Carl Tamayo, Malick Diouf, and Harold Alarcon in the end game, they held on thanks to some gritty defense down the stretch against the prolific pair of RJ Abarrientos and LJay Gonzales.
Speaking to reporters after the game, UP coach Goldwin Monteverde as well as star guard Ricci Rivero stressed the importance of continuously learning and improving, even as they keep racking up victories.
"Inaantay na lang din namin 'yung us being consistent," said Rivero, who top-scored for the Fighting Maroons with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting. "Pero we're there, we're getting there."
"I'm just happy with how we close games," he added. "There's a lot of times na nangyari na down kami, humahabol kami. We're trailing, pero at the end of the buzzer, what's important is who wins, 'di ba."
"'Yung sa amin, ginagawa naming bonus na lang talaga 'yung panalo, as long as we learn and improve every game talaga," Rivero stressed.
Throughout their winning streak, the Fighting Maroons have repeatedly found themselves in close games. They were in dogfights against Adamson University and De La Salle University in the first round, and needed big finishing kicks to pull away from FEU and National University.
Each time, however, they were able to come away with wins. Monteverde has gotten strong crunch time performances from several players, including Lucero, Rivero, and point guard Joel Cagulangan.
"Ang importante lang after noong every game, we just try to see ano pang pwede naming i-improve as a team," said Monteverde, who has consistently sought to downplay their winning streak -- UP's longest in the Final 4 era.
"Kumbaga, second round, ilang games pa. Going towards sa end ng second round, hopefully makapag-pick up kami. Whatever we could learn, whatever we could get from every game, gagawin namin, kukunin namin," he said.
The Fighting Maroons face another test on Thursday against the Soaring Falcons, whom they beat in a tight game, 73-71, in the first round.