UP eyes finals return, as dangerous NU tries to stand in champ's way

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 07 2022 06:29 AM

Zavier Lucero (22) of the UP Fighting Maroons drives to the hoop during their match against the NU Bulldogs at the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 85 held at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, October 12, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Zavier Lucero (22) of the UP Fighting Maroons drives to the hoop during their match against the NU Bulldogs at the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 85 held at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, October 12, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines -- Defending champion University of the Philippines looks to take another step forward in its title defense when the Fighting Maroons play National University in the UAAP Season 85 Final 4, Wednesday. 

Both teams will be well-rested for their 2 p.m. showdown at the Araneta Coliseum, having last played on November 26.

Both teams are also coming off defeats. UP (11-3) fell to Ateneo de Manila University in its final elimination round game, 75-67, while the Bulldogs (9-5) bowed to Adamson University, 64-63, in their own assignment.

The Fighting Maroons will have a twice-to-beat advantage, having finished as the second seed in the elimination round. A win on Wednesday will propel them to the best-of-3 Finals for the third time in the last four seasons. 

"What's important now is to look forward dun sa darating na game," UP coach Goldwin Monteverde had said after their loss to the Blue Eagles. "Since Day 1, I've been very consistent naman, on what to work on."

"Marami kaming matututunan as a team. Importante, maging ready kami sa Final Four," he added.

Though they ended the eliminations with back-to-back losses, National U remains a dangerous opponent. They are one of three teams to have beaten UP in the eliminations, having downed the Maroons 80-75 in the first round.

And NU head coach Jeff Napa is determined to overcome their disadvantage against the defending champions, using it as a motivational tool for his players. 

"The good thing is, kailangan naming talunin ng dalawang beses 'yung andoon sa taas. So, 'yun ang pinaka-masarap na mae-experience as a coach and as a player, na ma-overcome 'yung adversity na 'yun," he said.

The Fighting Maroons will be hoping to get bounce-back performances from Zavier Lucero and presumptive MVP Malick Diouf, after they struggled in their loss to the Blue Eagles.

Meanwhile, NU will get back rookie guard Kean Baclaan, who was suspended against Adamson. The long break also afforded them more time to get Steve Nash Enriquez prepared for the do-or-die contest, as the guard is still playing through an injury and is not at 100%.

Should National U win, there will be a do-or-die game for a spot in the Finals on Sunday, December 11 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

UAAP Season 85 is streaming on iWantTFC every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, available for Premium users outside the Philippines.