MANILA, Philippines—A fever limited Bright Akhuetie in University of the Philippines' most important game of UAAP Season 81, but it could not stop him from making the biggest basket of the night.
The Season 81 Most Valuable Player was limited to just six points in the Fighting Maroons' final 4 game against the Adamson Soaring Falcons on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena, way below his average of 18.86 points per game.
And yet, the Fighting Maroons still went to the big man in their final play of the game, and Akhuetie delivered. The Nigerian center knocked down the undergoal stab with 2.6 seconds left that gave UP a 73-71 triumph over the Soaring Falcons, and enabled the Fighting Maroons to force a do-or-die game for a spot in the finals.
"Before that, we had a different game-plan, but Juan (Gomez de Liano) insisted that he's gonna give the ball to me. I'm like, 'OK," said Akhuetie, noting that it was their sophomore guard who fired the inbound pass to him.
It was only after the game was over that Akhuetie acknowledged to his teammates that he was not playing at a 100%.
"I didn't even tell the team that I had a fever last night, and right now, I just had to play through it because I can't tell them that, I'll just deal with it on my own," he said.
"I don't want a situation where I tell them I cannot do it. Our spirits will get down, we won't be able to play," he explained. "So I was just there, doing my job on the rebounding, but not forcing anything, not trying to score, because it was really hard for me."
Indeed, before his game-winner, Akhuetie had only taken four shots — something that did not go unnoticed on social media.
But his limited touches was of no issue to Akhuetie, who had more pressing problems to deal with during the game.
"I was trying to catch my breath, dealing with the cold, and it was just too much," he said. "(But) I can't tell them that I won't be able to play. It's gonna be really bad."
"I just psyched myself that whatever it is, stay there and lead these guys," he said.
Though he managed only six points, Akhuetie still did his job on the glass and finished with 14 rebounds along with two blocks. And of course, he had enough energy in the end game to dive to the rim, catch Gomez de Liano's lob, and go up for the game-winning lay-up.
"The funny thing is, we practiced this," Akhuetie said of their game-winning play. "Coach Bo (Perasol) was like, okay, let's do this. In case we need a three, this is what we do. If we need a two, the alley-oop, pass it to Bright."
"So we did it, but we didn't make it. We missed it in practice," he revealed. "We laughed through it all, but thank God, it worked today."
Akhuetie now has three days to recover before he leads the Fighting Maroons in their do-or-die game against Adamson on Wednesday. At stake is a spot in the UAAP finals, something UP has not achieved since 1986.
"I should be better before then," Akhuetie said. "All I just have to do is get enough rest now, and I'll be good."
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