MANILA, Philippines—There was a moment during University of the Philippines' do-or-die game against Adamson University that coach Bo Perasol felt a sliver of doubt.
The Fighting Maroons were just 10.7 seconds away from victory in the fourth quarter, when Adamson point guard Jerom Lastimosa drilled a step-back three-pointer that tied the game at 78.
That shot, Perasol would later admit, planted a seed of doubt in his mind.
"After that made three-point shot by Lastimosa . . . it took away momentarily the spirit from us," he said. "I was already thinking na mananalo kami. Iniisip ko na ang Ateneo (in the finals). But then, that shot came in, so parang ang hirap ibalik na, 'Lumaban pa ulit tayo,' for the next five minutes."
"But these guys just refused to give up," the coach added.
The Fighting Maroons could have deflated further in overtime, when Adamson raced out to an 84-78 lead. But as Perasol said, they refused to give up. UP answered Adamson with a 6-0 run of its own to tie the game, before veteran guard Paul Desiderio took charge in the final minute and knocked down the game-winning bucket with 6.6 seconds left.
UP won 89-87 to advance to the finals of the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball tournament, its first appearance in the championship round since 1986.
Juan Gomez de Liano, who top-scored for UP with a career-high 30 points, acknowledged that the Fighting Maroons were in a shaky situation in the overtime period.
"They led pa, 'di ba?" he recalled.
"Well, we just never gave up. Literally, we just never gave up," the young guard said emphatically. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we're never gonna give up. That's it."
For Gomez de Liano, this is a moment that he has dreamed of ever since high school, when he was dominating for a UPIS team that never even made the final 4. He turned down offers to play for other colleges, instead choosing to stay at home in UP.
"I just really wanted to help bring back the winning culture for the seniors team, which we all did," he said.
"I can't even put it in words right now," he said. "I"m just grateful for this opportunity that God gave us. God put us in this great position, and we made the most out of this opportunity."
The Season 80 Rookie of the Year said they will carry that same mentality in the finals, where they will take on the powerhouse Ateneo team.
"We live for these kinds of moments, and yeah, going back, we started from the bottom. It was all a dream, so why are we gonna stop now? Why are we gonna stop? We'll just keep going and going, go back to practice tomorrow and just get better," he said.
"We're not gonna stop," he stressed. "Go back to practice and prepare."
Game 1 of the best-of-3 Finals is on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
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