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Maroons reach Finals, eliminate Bulldogs in Final Four

University of the Philippines displayed its championship form, dropping a devastating late-game bomb to overcome National University to advance to the finals of Season 85 University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Terrence Fortea, Gerry Abadiano, and JD Cagulangan turned on the heat, delivering crucial baskets down the stretch to help carry the Fighting Maroons to the finals of the country’s most prestigious collegiate league for the second consecutive time.

They will face the survivor of the other Final Four battle between topseed Ateneo de Manila University and Adamson University in the best-of-three finals series that starts on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

The Blue Eagles and the Falcons are still clashing at press time.

Staring at a 61-58 deficit – and the possibility of losing the crown it won for the first time since 1986 – in the final 53.3 seconds, Abadiano knocked down a jumper before Fortea split his free throws to knot the count at 61.

Abadiano, who played high school basketball for NU, then swiped the ball off Omar John for a breakaway layup before Cagulangan nailed a three-pointer to complete the Fighting Maroons’ cold-blooded fightback.

“We’re happy that we’ll be getting another chance to win the championship,” said UP coach Goldwin Monteverde, who turned to his shock troopers following the absence of main man Carl Tamayo in the first quarter.

Tamayo, a Gilas Pilipinas mainstay, rode the bench early after hurting his ankle.

“For the game, we started out flat. Losing Carl in the first half, he wasn’t 100 percent, the team responded well to the challenge given to us.”

Most Valuable Player frontrunner Malick Diouf had a huge double-double performance, finishing with 17 points and 21 rebounds on top of three blocks while Zavier Lucero chipped in 12 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals for UP, which finished the eliminations with an identical 11-3 record with Ateneo but had to settle for the second spot due to inferior quotient.

The Maroons, however, reached a personal milestone as it took them only 15 games – the fewest number of matches – to reach the finals since the Final Four was implemented in 1993.

Cyril Gonzales also starred with 11 points while Cagulangan and Abadiano chipped in eight and seven points, respectively.

“Respect to NU as they really had a good season,” Monteverde, a former Bulldogs mentor, said.

“They played very well. They were a tough challenge for us, for me. However, we responded well to this game and I’m very proud of them.”

The Bulldogs, who finished the eliminations at the third spot with a 9-5 win-loss record, banked on the double-double performance of Jake Figueroa, who submitted 16 points and 14 rebounds.

The scores:

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.

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