MANILA, Philippines -- Pushed to the limit by a determined National University (NU) squad, the University of the Philippines (UP) delivered a champion's response in their UAAP Season 85 Final 4 game on Wednesday afternoon.
The Fighting Maroons unleashed an 11-0 run to end their game at the Araneta Coliseum, turning a slim 61-58 deficit into a 69-61 triumph. The win propelled them to the finals for the second straight season, where they will be playing Ateneo de Manila University in a rematch of last season's classic affair.
"Back-to-back finals kami, magme-make kami ng history," said UP guard Gerry Abadiano, one of the heroes in the Maroons' hard-earned victory.
"Lahat ng pagod namin since nung nagte-training kami, nagbunga rin eh. Pero siyempre, 'di pa naman tapos, may isang game pa. Kailangan pa namin talaga pag-igihin," he added.
For Abadiano, what makes UP's win over NU all the more remarkable is that they got it done without their main man, reigning Rookie of the Year Carl Tamayo, on the floor.
Tamayo sprained his right ankle midway through the first quarter, and while he was able to return, it was clear that he was not at 100%. The forward played for just 11 minutes, contributing six points on 2-of-5 shooting.
"Sobrang laking tulong ni Carl sa team," Abadiano acknowledged. "Noong natapilok siya, 'yung laro niya, hindi na 100% talaga 'yun. So kailangan talaga namin magrespond ng maayos."
"Kasi hindi naman magiging madali lahat, pukpukan talaga. 'Yun lang 'yung gagawin namin, response ng tama siguro sa loob ng court," he said.
Even with Tamayo on the bench, UP still had enough firepower to overcome NU, and Abadiano was a major factor. The burly guard knocked down a jumper that put UP within one, 60-61, with under three minutes left.
After a Terrence Fortea free throw knotted the count at 61, Abadiano came up with a huge steal against NU center Omar John, and raced to the other end for the go-ahead layup, 63-61, with just 1:40 left in the game.
The Fighting Maroons did not trail again, as a JD Cagulangan three-pointer with under a minute to go served as the dagger for the defending champions.
Abadiano said his own performance in the clutch is a credit to the instructions of their head coach, Goldwin Monteverde.
"Sa game, hindi naman mawawala 'yung challenges," said Abadiano. "Nakahabol 'yung NU, sinabihan kami nila Coach na push mo lang, pukpok mo lang."
"Noong pinasok ako ni Coach Gold nung fourth quarter, sabi niya, diinan mo lang, labanan mo lang lahat ng screens. 'Yun talaga yung sinasabi ni coach Gold sakin."
With NU on their rearview, UP is now set for their final challenge of the season as they brace for a rematch against the Blue Eagles. Game 1 of the best-of-3 finals is on Sunday 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.