Newly-minted Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf of University of the Philippines will have to keep himself out of foul trouble as he attempts to rediscover his old form during the winner-take-all Game 3 of Season 85 University Athletic Association of the Philippines basketball finals Monday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Diouf was hardly felt in UP’s 65-55 Game 2 loss to the Ateneo Blue Eagles last Wednesday that tied the rematch of the Season 84 championship seven months ago to 1-1.
On the same day the Senegalese accepted the MVP trophy to become the fourth UP player in history to receive the recognition, Diouf was limited to just two points with just two field goal attempts after drawing four fouls.
He did grab 11 rebounds but spent most of his time on the bench if not playing subdued defense to avoid fouling out.
“I just have to take care in the way I play,” the Season 84 Finals MVP said.
“I have to be more focused. This time, I (was into) foul trouble and it happens sometimes. I just need to be more focused and avoid (getting into foul trouble).”
Diouf, who is the sixth straight foreign student-athlete to be named tournament MVP, admitted that getting two early fouls in the first half threw him off his usual game.
“It really affected me, the way I was playing. I was thinking we’re out of control but it happens,” the 6-foot-11 center said.
Without an imposing figure to patrol the shaded area, the Blue Eagles banged in 36 points in the paint.
Diouf had nine points in 4-of-16 shooting, pulled down 10 boards and had two steals in the Fighting Maroons’ 72-66 series opener last Sunday.
The 23-year-old, who had a double-double average of 10.8 points and 10.9 rebounds with 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game in the eliminations, denied that the pressure of winning the MVP affected his game.
“No. I don’t think so. I’m still the same Malick. Always. I just have to play (the right way) because I love basketball. No matter what, I just have to play (the right way),” the UP sophomore said.
For the second straight season, the series goes the full distance.
Diouf and the rest of the Fighting Maroons hope that they will have the same result as last time when they ended a 36-year title drought by taking the decider.
“I’m pretty sure we’re still gonna win the championship if we play the right way. If we play the right way, we’re going to win. We just have to play together,” he said.