MANILA, Philippines -- The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons have a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final 4, but one of the team's chief backers is hopeful that it's a bonus they won't need.
UP will play De La Salle University in the semifinals, needing just one victory in order to advance to the finals of UAAP Season 84. The Fighting Maroons have momentum and confidence, thanks in part to their 84-83 upset of defending champion Ateneo de Manila University last Sunday.
Pato Gregorio, the president of the Philippine Rowing Association and one of the chief boosters of UP, said the Fighting Maroons' hard-earned triumph against Ateneo was a "historic moment."
UP not only gave Ateneo its first loss of Season 84, they also ended the Blue Eagles' 39-game winning streak that stretched to 2018. The result ensured that the Final 4 will take on a traditional format this year, unlike in Season 82 where it followed a step-ladder.
Then, UP also had a twice-to-beat advantage but lost twice to a University of Santo Tomas squad that made a Cinderella-run to the finals.
"We still need three games to win this championship and hindi po madali," Gregorio said during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday. "[We have to] beat La Salle, and beat the winner of Ateneo and FEU [Far Eastern University]."
The first order of business for UP is the Green Archers, and indeed, head coach Goldwin Monteverde was quick to shift their focus in the hours after their win against Ateneo.
"La Salle is a strong team also. So dapat, kumbaga, paghandaan namin ng maayos," Monteverde said on Sunday night. "Whatever we felt kanina after that win, doon na lang 'yun. When we get back to the hotel, ang isip namin would be going towards Final 4."
Gregorio stressed that it will be crucial for UP to defeat La Salle in just one game, instead of being forced into a decider.
"If we don't get tomorrow, baka nerbyosin pa ang mga players namin," he explained. "That is a very young team. It looks strong on paper but it's a very young team."
Several of Monteverde's top contributors are suiting up for the Maroons for the first time, including rookie ace Carl Tamayo, and transferees Zavier Lucero, Malick Diouf, and JD Cagulangan. Of their squad, only two players are on their final seasons: Noah Webb and Ricci Rivero.
"Next season … It will be the same team, so it is a very young team. Ang daming rookies. 'Pag ganyan, you try to avoid the issues na baka ma-rattle pa," said Gregorio. "So they have to beat La Salle tomorrow."
It's a task that the Maroons know will be easier said than done. They defeated La Salle twice in the elimination round, but both games were cardiac affairs that weren't decided until the final buzzer. UP took a 61-59 win in the first round, then held on for a 72-69 triumph in the second.
The Green Archers might not be at 100% in the Final 4 as star center Justine Baltazar and swingman Deschon Winston are both nursing injuries, but the team still has plenty of firepower as they flaunted in their final game of the elimination round against National University.
There, La Salle drew a big game from Joaqui Manuel as well as Evan Nelle to formally oust the Bulldogs from Final 4 contention.
Monteverde is optimistic that the Maroons will build on their win against Ateneo as they move forward into the Final 4.
"I'm very proud of this team because hindi naman lahat ng panalo namin all throughout this season na 'to, malaki. Marami kaming game na parang ganito, na close game," he said. "And 'yung trust nila in each other, hindi naman nawala. And hopefully ike-carry over namin 'to sa semis."
Tip-off between La Salle and UP is at 2 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena.