MANILA, Philippines -- AP Manlapaz showed Adamson University what it had missed for most of the UAAP Season 85 men's basketball tournament with a breakout performance against Ateneo de Manila University on Wednesday night.
A knee injury kept Manlapaz from playing in Season 84, in what was supposed to be his second season. He only played for five games in the elimination round of Season 85, and had scored a total of 12 points entering their final elimination round game against the Blue Eagles.
But with Adamson needing a win against Ateneo in order to clinch a Final 4 berth, Manlapaz went to work. He poured in 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting in just 17 minutes, showcasing his ability to score from all over the floor.
Manlapaz made four of his seven three-pointers and slashed his way to the hoop for layups. In a crucial third quarter sequence, he recorded a huge block on Ateneo's Kai Ballungay, then went coast-to-coast for a layup that sparked Adamson's recovery from a 15-point deficit.
Unfortunately for the Soaring Falcons, Manlapaz's breakout game wasn't enough as Ateneo held on for the 66-61 win that sealed them the top seed in the Final 4.
"Mixed emotions," Manlapaz said of his performance. "I'm that nakabalik na ako sa laro, and tumatagal na playing minutes ko. Kaso 'yun nga, natalo kami sa game."
Still, to see Manlapaz come up with a big performance is a good sign for the Adamson coaching staff heading into their do-or-die game against De La Salle University on Sunday, when they play the Green Archers for the last spot in the Final 4.
"We're happy that he's available. We've been waiting for him," Adamson coach Nash Racela said of the 6-foot-4 forward.
As a rookie in Season 82, Manlapaz averaged 5.86 points and 2.71 rebounds per game in just under 15 minutes per contest, and appeared poised to be the running mate that Jerom Lastimosa needed in Season 84 before he was ruled out with a knee injury.
"During those times na teams were really attacking Jerom, that's when we really needed an AP. Kaya lang, he wasn't available," noted Racela. "[But] okay lang 'yan."
"At least, moving forward, we have him. We're confident he will be able to give us minutes," he added.
The key now for Manlapaz is to regain his match fitness in order to play longer minutes for the Falcons. He averaged just over nine minutes per game in the elimination round as Racela eased him into the Adamson rotation.
"Hopefully, he will sustain it, or play longer minutes. Masasanay rin. 'Di na sanay maglaro e," the coach noted.