MANILA, Philippines—Bo Perasol and the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons barely have any time to celebrate their historic achievement in the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball tournament.
The Fighting Maroons outlasted the Adamson Soaring Falcons in an absolute thriller, 89-87, on Wednesday in a do-or-die game in the final 4, thus clinching a championship berth from the first time since 1986.
It was a greatly emotional triumph for the Maroons and the entire UP community, and they wept openly in the wake of what was certainly the team's biggest, most significant win since they last won the UAAP title.
But the season is not yet done. UP now advances to the best-of-3 finals, where they will play defending champion Ateneo de Manila University, the top-seeded team in the elimination round.
"Oh my," Perasol blurted out when asked about their upcoming match-up against the Blue Eagles in a TV interview. "I don't even know how we can plan right now against Ateneo — a very formidable, tough team."
"Right now, what I need for us to do is just to settle down, make sure we enjoy this first," he added. "But probably after 12 hours tomorrow, we need to sit down and think about what we're going to do, in order for us to have a chance against Ateneo."
This is the first time that the two teams from Katipunan will feature in the UAAP finals. For Perasol, it will also be a battle against his former team: he coached the Blue Eagles from Seasons 76 to 78, and led them to the final 4 in his last two years in charge.
The veteran mentor has no illusions about their upcoming series. UP has lost both of their games to the Blue Eagles this season, and Perasol acknowledged that his team is a massive underdog against the Tab Baldwin-coached team.
"No basketball aficionado in his right mind would probably give us a good chance against Ateneo," Perasol said bluntly.
This, however, is exactly what Perasol wants as they head to the finals on Saturday. After all that the Fighting Maroons have gone through in Season 81, being labelled as underdogs is simply another stumbling block in their journey.
"We would want that tag that UP doesn't stand a chance against Ateneo," he said.
"There is something there that we do, that's going to keep us going forward, looking to that championship game against Ateneo," he added. "We know that we could take something from that, the courage, the resilience, our feeling that we need to keep moving."
"We need to keep fighting, no matter what the odds are. That had been our team principle in this season."
The Fighting Maroons only have two days to prepare for Game 1, which is set on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena. This is of no issue to the UP players, however, who are raring to play already.
"Ready to go," declared Paul Desiderio, who nailed the game-winning shot with 6.6 seconds left in overtime. "Minsan lang kami mag-finals."
"It will be a good game," said Juan Gomez de Liano, who led UP with 30 points, a career-high. "We just have to stop their shooters and play good defense."
"Like I always say, it's just basketball," added Bright Akhuetie. "We just have to go out there and give our best. That's all we have to do."
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