MANILA, Philippines -- Carl Tamayo continues to be a puzzle that De La Salle University can't quite solve.
The University of the Philippines (UP) star keyed the Fighting Maroons' come-from-behind win against the Green Archers in their first game of UAAP Season 85 on Saturday night, producing 18 points and 19 rebounds in 32 minutes.
His pull-up jump shot with a minute and 17 seconds left gave UP enough breathing room to hold on for a 72-69 triumph, and he also hit the insurance free throws with four seconds to go. The slim win sent UP to a triumphant start to their title defense.
"I think marami kaming natutunan sa game na madala namin," Tamayo said afterward. "Simula pa lang nung season eh, so 'yung mga natutunan namin ngayon, madadala namin hanggang matapos 'yung liga."
It's not the first time that Tamayo has put the Green Archers away in the closing stretch. He did the same in their Final 4 classic in Season 84, sparking UP's comeback from a 14-point deficit to oust La Salle and send the Maroons to the finals.
But the big man made it clear that he does not have La Salle circled on his calendar.
"Hindi naman about La Salle. Siguro bawat game naman ganun," Tamayo insisted. "Na-feel ko lang 'yung team, kailangan may mag-step up, and 'yung culture na bini-build namin, walang bibitaw, talagang pinaninindigan namin."
Tamayo also said that the Fighting Maroons were not fueled by a statement made by La Salle point guard Evan Nelle, who declared ahead of the season that the Green Archers were the favorites in Season 85.
"I really think we are the favorites," Nelle had said. "The bonding was really different from the bubble season. So yeah, we're No. 1."
Nelle had nine points and five assists in their loss, hitting a late three-pointer that kept La Salle alive. But he also fumbled the ball in the final seconds of the game when they still had a chance to force overtime.
Asked for his thoughts on Nelle's assertion, Tamayo could only shrug. "Salita nila 'yun, paniniwala nila 'yun," the Gilas Pilipinas mainstay said.
"We respect that, pero alam namin kung saan kami nakalugar. Alam namin kung ano kaya ng team namin," Tamayo added. "Kung ano tingin nila sa team nila, nire-respeto namin 'yun, pero may sarili kaming paniniwala."
"Naglaro lang naman kami," he also said. "Ginawa lang namin 'yung dapat naming gawin. Salamat sa Diyos nakuha namin 'yung panalo."
UP returns to action on Wednesday against Adamson University.
Catch replays of UAAP Season 84 games via the UAAP Varsity channel on iWantTFC, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.