MANILA, Philippines—Expected to be a Final 4 contender in UAAP Season 81, the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons have yet to live up to lofty expectations midway through the first round of the men’s basketball tournament.
Anchored by Mythical 5 member Paul Desiderio and reigning Rookie of the Year Juan Gomez de Liano, the Fighting Maroons were expected to make the leap into contention this year, especially with big man Bright Akhuetie set to make his highly anticipated debut.
Four games into the season, and that leap has yet to happen. After overwhelming University of the East, 87-58, in their first game, the Fighting Maroons have lost three straight in varying fashions. They lost steam in the second half in an 87-79 loss to Ateneo, and were crushed by Far Eastern University, 89-73, last Sunday.
Most painful was their setback to Adamson on Wednesday. Leading 68-67 with 5.7 seconds left off an Akhuetie bucket, UP gave up the game-winner to Sean Manganti with 0.7 seconds left on the clock.
“It’s humbling in a sense that the slate looks bleak,” said UP head coach Bo Perasol, after his team dropped to 1-3 midway through the first round.
As it stands, the Fighting Maroons are in seventh place in the league standings — just above the hapless University of the East Red Warriors, the lone winless team in the UAAP at 0-4.
“I’m disappointed with our standing right now,” Perasol said. “This is not the way we have planned it to be.”
But the coach is also quick to point out that their three losses have all come against teams in the upper half of the league standings. Adamson, Ateneo, and FEU are currently sitting in the Top 3.
“The three losses that we had was against stronger teams,” said Perasol. “We would’ve wanted to win against Ateneo, but that’s a long shot. FEU, we had a bad game. Today, we could’ve won it also.”
“So we need to take those things, para habang mas matagal pa, we need to be positive,” he added.
The loss to Adamson was definitely tough to swallow, but Perasol was proud to see his team go toe-to-toe with the league leaders. Indeed, for a while it looked as though they were about to hand the Falcons their first loss. UP led by 10 after the third quarter before falling apart in the face of Adamson’s comeback.
“The way we played against Ateneo was so-so in the end but this one, we played heads up up to the end. We could’ve been better but then again, I could have not asked for more from them,” said Pereasol.
“FEU was just bad. So I think that we can prove to ourselves that we can come back from a bad loss and almost win it but then again, that wasn’t what happened,” he added.
Even the way they lost gave Perasol reason to be proud. Rather than through a set play, the Falcons won on a difficult shot by Manganti, after Papi Sarr had already fumbled an initial pass.
“As I told them, if it was a set up play, somebody got screened, somebody got open, but that was a broken play. It was a Hail Mary shot and this night was not for us. We all have to live with that and we need to take the positive out of this game,” he said.
“It’s not going to be easier, it’s going to be more difficult but that’s how it is. The confidence right now, the way I saw them play against the number one team, I was just proud about that.”
Perasol believes that the string of painful losses can only help the Fighting Maroons in the long run, but they must also keep their heads up amidst the skid.
“We are still on track,” he said. “I think we’re still on track, the way we see it.”
“You have to remember where we came from, and where the expectations are coming,” Perasol also said. “Again, expectations are coming from the point of view that we haven’t had any titles in the last how many decades, and we haven’t been in the Final 4 for how many years.”
With this in mind, the UP community expects the Maroons to live up to their moniker and show some fight, said Perasol.
“I think that’s what we did,” he said. “I think we can show them that we’re still in it. We can still be in the Final 4.”
UP will try to end its losing streak on Sunday, when it plays De La Salle University at Mall of Asia Arena.
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