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Fighting Maroons to fight for Lucero

Our goal to win the championship hasn’t changed.

Fight for Zav.

Defending champion University of the Philippines is looking at Zavier Lucero’s looming absence as an inspiration to fuel its drive for a title repeat when it battles Ateneo de Manila University in Game 3 of Season 85 University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament best-of-three finals series.

The Fighting Maroons worst fear unfolded when the star forward was formally ruled out for the win-or-go-home battle this Monday due to an anterior cruciate ligament tear on his left knee.

UP basketball program director Bo Perasol confirmed to the Daily Tribune that Lucero will no longer suit up, although he doesn’t have any ‘first-hand knowledge’ of the actual medical finding.

Still, their eyes remain fixed on the ultimate prize — the UAAP crown.

“Our goal to win the championship hasn’t changed. We may have experienced some bumps but the team is ready to step and take responsibility in Zav’s absence.”

Lucero served as the defensive linchpin that bailed the Fighting Maroons from a furious Blue Eagles rally in Game 1.

Aside from posting a rock-solid performance of 14 points and 10 rebounds, the Filipino-Mexican forward delivered gems of a defense when he blocked a potential game-tying two-handed dunk attempt by Chris Koon that sparked a Harold Alarcon corner three-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Then, he swatted away Ange Kouame’s undergoal stab to keep UP’s four-point deficit, 70-66, in the final 32 seconds that allowed JD Cagulangan to seal the win at the charity stripe.

But Game 2 was a different story.

The 6-foot-7 Lucero claimed that he heard “something cracked” without absorbing physical contact while driving to the basket in the final 8:31 of the game that led to their 55-65 loss.

Result of his magnetic resonance imaging test has yet to be announced, but sideliners confirmed that he suffered an ACL tear — an injury that takes at least a year to heal.

Reports also have it that Lucero is already resigned to the possibility of sitting out the sudden-death Game 3 that will be held at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Without Lucero, the Fighting Maroons are adopting a next-man-up mentality when they face the Blue Eagles in a battle that is tipped to go down the wire with only the team that wants it more emerging on top.

“Everyone is pumped up knowing that the call for them to deliver is up. Our guys know what it takes to win,” said Perasol, adding that stalwarts like Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf, Carl Tamayo, James Spencer, Harold Alarcon and Cagulangan are all ready to compete as if their lives are on the line.

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