MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) The University of the Philippines (UP) is headed to the UAAP Season 85 finals after a hard-earned 69-61 victory over National University (NU) in their Final 4 encounter, Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Fighting Maroons went blow for blow with the Bulldogs but showed that they had more firepower in the end game, as big shots by Gerry Abadiano and JD Cagulangan put the defending champions in control.
This is the third time in the last four seasons that UP made it to the championship round. They are seeking a second straight men's basketball title.
The Fighting Maroons will play the winner of the other Final 4 match-up between Ateneo de Manila University and Adamson University.
Malick Diouf, the front-runner for Most Valuable Player honors, had a massive game with 17 points, 21 rebounds, three blocks, and two assists. Zavier Lucero had an all-around effort as well, with 12 points, 11 boards, five assists, three dimes and two steals.
"We're happy that we're getting another chance to win a championship," said NU head coach Goldwin Monteverde. "We started off flat, but I believe the team bounced back from where we started, when we lost Carl [Tamayo] in the first half."
Tamayo suffered a sprained right ankle midway through the first quarter. He returned later in the period but was clearly not at 100% and played just 11 minutes, scoring six points.
The Bulldogs, seeded third in the semis, had a 61-58 lead with 3:03 to play off two free throws by Jake Figueroa. But the Maroons shackled them the rest of the way, as Abadiano sparked an 11-0 UP run to end the game.
Abadiano's layup off a Kean Baclaan turnover gave the defending champions a 63-61 lead that they did not relinquish, and the Bulldogs agonizingly missed a pair of open layups in the final 90 seconds. They were made to pay for their miscues when Cagulangan knocked down a corner three-pointer for a 66-61 lead with just 53.3 seconds left.
NU's hopes of a comeback were extinguished when Harold Alarcon rejected a Patrick Yu three-point attempt in their next possession, and Cagulanan's split at the line made it a six-point game, 67-61, with just 34.2 seconds left. Misses by Baclaan and John Lloyd Clemente sealed the Bulldogs' fate, and Harold Alarcon went on to ice the game at the line with 12.4 seconds to go.
It was a sorry loss for the Bulldogs, who were one of three teams to have beaten UP in the elimination round and led by as much as nine points in the first quarter. They got an inspired performance from Figueroa (16 points, 14 rebounds) and Baclaan (14 points, five assists), but ran out of steam in the closing stretch.
UP made just 34.3% of its field goals but shot 26 free throws, making 16 of them. The Bulldogs also struggled from the field, shooting just 33.8% -- including a brutal 2-of-24 clip from long range. They were 9-of-11 from the free throw line.
UP 69 -- Diouf 17, Lucero 12, Gonzales 11, Cagulangan 8, Abadiano 7, Fortea 6, Tamayo 6, Alarcon 2, Spencer 0, Galinato 0, Torculas 0.
NU 61 -- Figueroa 16, Baclaan 14, Malonzo 11, John 8, Yu 2, Clemente 2, Enriquez 2, Mahinay 2, Minerva 2, Galinato 2, Manansala 0, Palacielo 0, Tibayan 0.
Quarters: 17-19, 35-38, 54-45, 69-61.