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Odds stacked against Fighting Maroons

Winning back-to-back titles in one year is a mouthwatering prospect but it would need focused determination and tremendous amount of hard work to get it done.

University of the Philippines head coach Goldwin Monteverde knows that beating Ateneo de Manila University in their second University Athletic Association of the Philippines finals meeting in the same year is not easy.

He said most of the pressure is on the Fighting Maroons.

UP, for one, is now the one defending the throne against an Ateneo side that is eager to reclaim the hardware they lost seven months ago when they clash in the Season 85 men’s basketball tournament best-of-three championship series starting Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

“Of course, it means a lot (winning two titles in one year). This is what we have been working hard for — winning in the finals,” Monteverde said.

Compounding the odds stacked against the reigning champions is the fact that they are facing a Blue Eagles squad that is riding the momentum of a seven-game winning streak, including a masterful 81-60 drubbing of Adamson University in the Final Four.

With that, it would need an extra effort, extra hard work for the Fighting Maroons to defend the title.

 “As I’ve said, we have to work hard and prepare for the championship,” Monteverde said.

“It won’t be given to us easily.”

The Fighting Maroons booked their third championship appearance in four seasons after beating National University, 69-61, in the semis.

UP and Ateneo split their eliminations head-to-head. The Maroons defeated the Eagles in overtime in the first round, 76-71, but the Eagles got their revenge with a 75-67 second-round result.

With just a short time to rest before the big dance, the health of UP’s go-to forward Carl Tamayo could also be a handicap.

The Season 84 Rookie of the Year suffered a sprained left ankle after stepping on Bulldogs forward Jake Figueroa’s foot midway in the first quarter of their Final Four game.

Tamayo, however, said that it won’t be a cause for concern come game time.

“It’s the finals. I’ve been enduring pain before, so going into the finals there is no reason for me not to play,” the 6-foot-8 Tamayo said of the same injury he suffered in the second round against University of the East that also prevented him from suiting up for Gilas Pilipinas in the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Qualifier last month.

Despite the great odds stacked against them, Monteverde still has full trust and confidence in his team.

In fact, the likes of probable Most Valuable Player awardee Malick Diouf, James Spencer, Zavier Lucero, and Terrence Fortea are all expected to step up as well as JD Cagulangan, who played the hero’s role in Game 3 of the previous season’s best-of-three finals series when he sank the game-winning trey that ended the State University’s 36-year title drought.

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