The University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons were in the thick of the fight for more than 3 quarters, but the defending champion Ateneo Blue Eagles broke away in the final three minutes to take Game 1 of the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball finals on Saturday.
Despite fading late, UP head coach Bo Perasol said he remains optimistic about his team's chances in Game 2.
"If there's one takeaway [here that] we can take home and think about is that it's possible that we can beat Ateneo," Perasol told reporters after his Fighting Maroons bowed to the Blue Eagles 88-79 at Mall of Asia Arena.
Perasol said UP has been given little chance of beating its Katipunan neighbors, but he believes the Fighting Maroons can steal Wednesday's game.
"Before the series, everyone was like, 'You're no match against them. You have no experience in the finals,' but they've shown that with a little tweak in defense and a little rest, they could give Ateneo a run for its money," Perasol said.
He also praised his squad for soldiering on despite playing for several minutes without Bright Akhuetie, who was carried off the court and to the dugout in the third quarter because of a knee injury.
Perasol said he reminded his players of the time they eliminated Adamson in the semifinals.
"I told them, we fought it out against Adamson. Why don't we do it against Ateneo? I'm very positive about our chances. We need to make some preparations, which we didn't have in the last practices," he said.
Going into the must-win game on Wednesday, Perasol emphasized the importance of players recovering physically.
"One good thing about this, we have time to rest. That is very important. Some guys are injured like Bright. They can recuperate and get checked," Perasol said, adding that the team needs to be better on defense next time.
"There were a lot of times when we had them already, but at the end of the shot clock they're still able to get 3-point shots. If we can hold on to our focus up to the end, we will have a chance."
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