Fri. Dec 2nd, 2022
UP Fighting Maroons UAAP

FILE – UP Fighting Maroons. UAAP PHOTO

The University of the Philippines (UP) walked out of the Smart Araneta Coliseum court approximately one hour after noon on November 5th with an 83-69 victory over the University of the East. More than six hours later, the Maroons took a 12-day hiatus with a Final Four spot in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament, and they didn’t even have to break a sweat.

Ateneo did the heavy lifting for them with a 68-54 win that ensured UP would be in the semi-finals no matter what the rest of the second round turned out to be.

This gave the defending champions the luxury of focusing entirely on themselves as their bids resumed for a second consecutive crown against Far Eastern University Tamaraws in the Big Dome on Wednesday.

“The most important thing for our team is to make sure we’re well-oiled and ready to break into ourselves,” said forward Zavier Lucero, who formed a tough bottom post tandem with pivot Malick Diouf. “It does not matter [who is] on the other side of the field… we’ll be good at trying to kill every team out there.

The ability to consistently perform independently of the opponent can be valuable for UP, who are facing a bumpy schedule to finish the second round.

The Maroons will be the overwhelming favorites against the resurrected Tamaraws, but then face the dangerous La Salle. They then battle the also-managed University of Santo Tomas before completing the qualifying round against last season’s Final opponent, Ateneo.

With just a single loss in 10 rounds, UP’s next goal should be to secure their current corner of the standings to collect a double defeat bonus leading to the Final Four.

Except that UP head coach Goldwyn Monteverde wanted her players to stop checking the standings.

“We don’t want to be comfortable and we’re not really qualifying. I think the important thing is how we finish the game.

The pause gave star center Carl Tamayo and shrewd quarterback JD Cagulangan more time for their injuries to fully heal.

“We continue to work hard and look at what needs improvement and there is definitely a lot we need to do. “Everybody is really engaged in the team building process and that has been our mindset ever since,” Monteverde said.

Running second and two games behind the Maroons, the Bulldogs (7-3) are aiming to maintain their momentum against the Warriors (4-6) in Game Two by beating the Blue Eagles and Tamaraws. It’s a heavy four-game program.

“It was a two-win streak and we worked hard in practice during the break. We are a strong team of 16 people, anyone can come forward if necessary. We have the pieces that we’re willing to sacrifice for the good of the team, and that’s what we bring to this game, says National College coach Jeff Napa.

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