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Maroons survive Eagles’ rally, near 2nd straight UAAP crown

Defending champion University of the Philippines turned to its suffocating defense to weather the furious rally of Ateneo de Manila University, 72-66, in Game 1 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 85 men’s basketball best-of-three finals series on 11 December at the jampacked Mall of Asia Arena.

After building a 10-point cushion, the Fighting Maroons survived a sudden dryspell with timely stops, before JD Cagulangan nailed his two charities in the final five seconds to seal the victory that put them one win away from winning their second consecutive title.

UP can close the series in Game 2 on 14 December at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

UP coach Goldwin Monteverde lauded his boys for displaying the heart of a champion team, especially in the crucial stretch when Ateneo made a sizzling run.

“Defensively we started well. Our ball movement was there. I liked that they were moving the ball well. They (Ateneo) made a run in the fourth but we were able to sustain it,” Monteverde said after his wards emerged victorious before an 18,211-strong crowd.

Zavier Lucero led the Fighting Maroons with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds while playing as catalyst on defense with two blocks in the crucial stretch that greatly demoralized the Blue Eagles.

He swatted away a Chris Koon slam dunk attempt that sparked a 10-2 run, capped by a Harold Alarcon triple for a 68-58 lead with 4:38 left in the game.

“It’s great but we still have a game ahead of us,” Lucero said.

Cagulangan finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, Alarcon had 11 markers while projected Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf got nine points and 10 boards for UP.

Cyril Gonzales hit a basket to give the Fighting Maroons a 70-60 lead with just 3:46 remaining, before the Blue Eagles rallied to come close by four, 70-66.

Cagulangan got a steal but Carl Tamayo bricked two foul shots for UP.

Lucero then blocked Ange Kouame from behind to take the fight out of Ateneo as Cagulangan trooped to the line for the coup de grace.

Cagulangan continued to be a thorn in the side of Ateneo as he nailed back-to-back three-pointers that fueled the Fighting Maroons’ first-quarter assault.

He had eight markers after the first 20 minutes of action for UP, which shot 48.6 percent from the field in the first half.

The Fighting Maroons frustrated the Blue Eagles with stingy pressure defense and also took advantage of center Ange Kouame riding the bench for most of the first half after drawing two quick fouls.

Lucero gave UP a 12-point lead, 34-22, with 6:18 after sinking the technical free throw whistled on Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin for continuous complaining.

Ateneo made a late run heading into halftime with Forthsky Padrigao hitting a trey to cut its deficit to 40-35 with 45 seconds remaining before Lucero scored a basket to end the first half with UP holding to a 42-35 advantage.

Padrigao had 13 markers in the first two quarters but finished with only 16 after getting hobbled by cramps on his right leg in the second half.

Kouame had 15 points and 10 rebounds while Dave Ildefonso and BJ Andrade added 10 markers each in a lost cause.

The scores:

UP (72) — Lucero 14, Cagulangan 12, Alarcon 11, Diouf 9, Gonzales 8, Tamayo 7, Galinato 6, Spencer 5, Fortea 0, Abadiano 0.

ATENEO (66) — Padrigao 16, Kouame 15, Ildefonso 10, Andrade 10, Koon 9, Lazaro 3, Chiu 2, Gomez 1, Ballungay 0, Daves 0, Quitevis 0, Lao 0.
QUARTERS: 28-19, 42-35, 54-50, 72-66.

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