University of the Philippines and National University took a step closer to the title as they dismantled their respective foes to book their slots in the Final Four of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament.
The Fighting Maroons grabbed the first semis seat after delivering an impressive 79-72 win over University of the East while the Bulldogs followed suit as they notched a 68-57 triumph over Far Eastern University yesterday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
UP and NU are now tied at the top spot with 9-2 win-loss slate while De La Salle University and Adamson University are jockeying for the other two semis spots with 7-3 and 5-5 cards, respectively, entering the final stretch of the double-round eliminations.
Reigning champion Ateneo de Manila University, for its part, is at the fifth spot with a 5-6 record following a 67-59 win over University of Santo Tomas in the first game.
The Blue Eagles’ semis chances, however, are not good as they have to win their last three games against Adamson University on 12 November, UE on 15 November and La Salle on 18 November to keep their title-retention hopes alive.
Jake Figueroa fired 15 points and six rebounds while Jolo Manansala chipped in 11 markers for the Bulldogs, who will be marching into their second straight semifinal appearance.
“Just like you’ve said, we’re now in the Final Four,” NU coach Jeff Napa said.
“But our journey doesn’t end here. We still have a goal. We still want to achieve something. That’s why I’m challenging ourselves so we know how far we can go.”
Reigning Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf was at his best, dropping a double-double output of 19 points and 15 rebounds to power the Maroons to their fifth straight semifinal appearance.
But making it to the semis wasn’t easy for UP, especially against a gritty UE squad that was aiming to pull off an earthshaking upset.
With UP ahead by four in the final 1:20, 73-69, Jack Cruz-Dumont knocked down a three-pointer to trim the deficit to within one, 72-73.
But Francis Lopez displayed tremendous composure as he knocked down a jumper with 33.3 seconds left to give UP a safe 75-73 cushion.
Diouf and JD Cagulangan then calmly nailed four of six free throws in the final seconds of regulation to seal the victory and book a return ticket to the Final Four.
UP assistant coach Christian Luanzon heaved a sigh of relief, saying that their coach, Goldwin Monteverde, has been citing the importance of staying composed when the game is on the line.
“Whether in pressure moments or not, coach Gold is always composed. It rubs off on his composure and the players’ composure, especially having Maymay (Cagulangan), Malick, CJ (Cansino) and Gerry Abadiano, guys who are at least in their third season,” Luanzon said.
“We were never surprised but at the same time, in these moments, we had to rely on each other and our execution.”
Cansino scored 17 points while Cagulangan had nine points, two rebounds and eight assists for the Maroons, who have been in the semifinals since Season 81.