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Gritty Maroons repulse Eagles

Defending champion University of the Philippines turned to its suffocating defense to weather a furious rally of Ateneo de Manila University, 72-66, in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball finals series last night at the jampacked Mall of Asia Arena.

After building a 10-point cushion, the Fighting Maroons survived a sudden dry spell 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 when it clashes with Ateneo anew in Game 2 on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

UP coach Goldwin Monteverde lauded his boys for displaying the hearts of champions, especially in the crucial stretch where the Blue Eagles 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.

Zavier Lucero led the Fighting Maroons with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds while playing as a 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 made a run 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 continues 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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