Maroons turn expected slugfest with Bulldogs into ho-hum affair to claim top ranking with conviction

Malick Diouf UP UAAP

Malick Diouf.–MARLO CUETO/

University of the Philippines (UP) barged its way to the top of the Final Four after a merciless conquest of National University (NU), with a 79-57 clobbering of the hapless Bulldogs at Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday finalizing the top three after Adamson got the chance to topple the reigning king of UAAP men’s basketball.

The Fighting Maroons led all the way and closed out with a 12-2 record for No. 1 and a twice-to-beat protection, giving La Salle the second playoff bonus as the Bulldogs qualified as the third seed and would need to beat the rampaging Green Archers two straight times to make the title series.

The Archers swept the second round with a 72-69 nipping of Ateneo last Saturday for 11-3, while the Bulldogs lost their second straight for 10-4.

And then there was Monty Montebon who saved the day for the Soaring Falcons in the earlier game. Montebon drained a three-pointer with 2.7 seconds remaining that keyed a 63-61 win over University of the East (UE) that forged a playoff for No. 4 with struggling defending champion Ateneo.

Adamson closed out with a 7-7 record like the Blue Eagles as they dispute the right to play UP—and try to beat the Maroons two straight times—for a seat in the Finals.

“We knew how tough NU is so we really needed to prepare our defense and at the same time still try to improve playing as a team on both ends,” UP coach Goldwin Monteverde said. “Although there were challenges during the game, we as a team played well together. We just have to sustain it.”

The Maroons established a 42-30 lead at halftime on the strength of a 51.5-percent shooting from the field, with their choking defense holding the Bulldogs to just 29 percent. NU never had a chance as UP continued it’s hot shooting, leading by as many as 25 points.

“Our mindset is to just keep on working, whatever we encounter during the game, we just have to adjust and try to overcome what’s in front of us,” Monteverde went on. “Whatever is the result of the game, it’s just a product of our hard work during the flow of the game.”

Francis Lopez drilled in 13 points, while Malick Diouf had 11 points on 80-percent shooting, that went with eight rebounds and three blocks.

Chemistry is key

The Maroons, who finished the eliminations with a four-game winning streak, showed much better chemistry with 11 more assists than NU, something that skipper CJ Cansino said is a product of their system.“This proves that if we work as a team, not be selfish and trust our system [we can do great things]. We gave our [all-out] effort and this is the consistency that we have been looking for the whole season,” Cansino said after tallying 11 points on 83.3 percent shooting.

Montebon, meanwhile, finished with 16 points and was mildly surprised that he was the hero in Adamson’s season-extending win.

“During the shot it was just a clear mind, and when it went in I was like ‘oh shoot,’” Montebon said. “And then I heard the whole crowd go crazy so I got kinda energetic and then the coaches told me to calm down (because there was still 2.7 seconds remaining).”

UE, despite an early Final Four exit, refused to go down without a fight, coming back from deficits of as many as 10 with Jack Cruz-Dumont almost pulling down the curtains with his own three-pointer for a 61-60 Red Warriors’ lead with 6.4 seconds remaining.

“We’re not yet thinking about Ateneo. That’s something that we made sure going to today’s ball game. We just thought about UE because imagine if we lost that, if [Montebon] missed his shot then we won’t even be talking about Ateneo,” coach Nash Racela said.

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The last time Adamson faced the Katipunan-based squad was on Nov. 12 when Ateneo gutted out a 62-58 win which was the subject of Racela’s frustration with officiating. INQ


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