University of the Philippines tries to return to the UAAP men's basketball title series when it takes on University of Santo Tomas in their Season 82 stepladder semifinal at Araneta Coliseum on Sunday.
Tip-off is at 4 p.m.
As the No. 2 seed, the Fighting Maroons need to beat the Growling Tigers just once to arrange a finals duel with defending champion Ateneo.
But against UST, UP has struggled to come away with a win.
Coach Bo Perasol and his crew finished the elimination round with a 9-5 record, but they lost both games to UST.
The Growling Tigers routed UP 85-69 in the first round, and were again winners, 84-78, in their rematch.
For UST coach Aldin Ayo, however, his team's success against the Fighting Maroons won't have any bearing from this point onward.
"Some of you will say that we are 2-0 against UP, but they are a different team right now," Ayo said.
" 'Yung mga nangyari doon sa elimination, it won't matter anymore because they're a different team."
This will be the third time the two schools will face each other this season, but the first time both of them are in full strength.
Kobe Paras was out in the initial meeting because he was rehabilitating a sprained ankle at the time, while Rhenz Abando was benched in the October game.
While UP is coming off a 10-day break, the Growling Tigers are only 4 days removed from a strong performance against Far Eastern University, a game in which they started off hot, cooled down, before developing nerves of steel to down the third-seeded Tamaraws 81-71.
The result paved the way for UST to advance.
UP, meanwhile, hopes the extended layoff helps the Season 81 runners-up to figure out how to solve the Growling Tigers.
The Fighting Maroons' last game wasn't pretty, an 86-64 loss to Ateneo that gave the Blue Eagles a 14-0 finish to the preliminaries.
"Well, I don't want to make excuses about it. The point is, we really got outplayed," Perasol said.
"Ateneo kasi is a cut above the rest. We cannot compare ourselves with them as of right now."
UST will rely on league MVP Soulemane Chabi Yo and Rookie of the Year Mark Nonoy, along with a feisty group that includes Abando, CJ Cansino, Brent Paraiso and Renzo Subido.
Meanwhile, UP boasts a star-studded roster that includes Paras, Ricci Rivero, Juan Gomez di Liaño and Bright Akhuetie.
"We have to honor our position (as the No. 2 seed) by preparing really hard," Perasol said.
"Because, while it is true na nandyan kami sa position na yan, it's not a sure thing that we're going to the finals."
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