University of the Philippines made history as it overpowered erstwhile unbeaten De La Salle University in the finals, 87-76, to claim the Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup title yesterday at the Filoil EcoOil Arena in San Juan.
The Fighting Maroons ruled the premiere preseason tourney for the first time ever, thanks to a breakout performance from unheralded Mark Belmonte who scored 18 points on top of five rebounds.
The 6-foot-6 forward made his biggest mark in the telling 23-4 tear that broke a 22-all deadlock late in the first quarter and built a massive 45-26 advantage in Fighting Maroons’ favor at the 6:25 mark of the second period.
He dropped 12 points in that run and outworked the Phillips brothers — Mike and Ben — the rest of the way.
“I’ve always seen his potential. He also has his struggles but the character we have in the team never stopped. I’m very happy for Mark,” said UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde of his lesser-known, yet just as promising, prospect.
UP would not let go of the lead from there, as the Green Archers would last threaten at 73-82 with 4:05 remaining before CJ Cansino converted three charities to pad the cushion to 85-73 inside the last three-minute mark.
Cansino wound up with 10 points, five rebounds, and two assists, while Francis Lopez (16 points on 10 shots) and Malick Diouf (10 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, two steals) also delivered the goods to help the Fighting Maroons avenge their 83-90 loss to La Salle in the group phase.
They are the only team to defeat the Green Archers in the 2023 edition of the tourney.
“We have a lot of respect for La Salle, they’re a really strong team. What’s good on our part is that we really prepared for this, and, thankfully, it showed,” Monteverde said.
Alongside the historic championship, UP also counted two players in the Mythical Team, where tournament Most Valuable Player Harold Alarcon and Diouf are joined by La Salle’s Kevin Quiambao and Evan Nelle and University of Perpetual Help’s Jun Roque.
UP now sets its sights on training camps in Serbia and Korea, as well as other preseason tourneys.
On the other hand, the Green Archers finished with a silver medal after losing the last and most important of their 12 assignments.
Evan Nelle showed the way for them with 19 points, five assists, and four rebounds while Mark Nonoy chipped in 13 points and three steals.
La Salle will try to get back on track just in time for the championship round of the 2023 Philippine Basketball Association D-League Aspirants Cup against San Beda University.