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Going for the kill — Fighting Maroons target UAAP crown

Photograph COURTESY OF UAAP CJ Cansino and the UP Fighting Maroons are out to finish off La Salle and claim its second UAAP men’s basketball title in three seasons.

University of the Philippines goes for the jugular against a desperate De La Salle University side seeking to force a series decider in Game 2 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball finals today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Two teams with contrasting agendas meet once again at 4 p.m. in a pivotal showdown that could decide the fate of the best-of-three title affair.

Meanwhile, University of Santo Tomas is out to dismantle the seven-year women’s division reign of defending champion National University in Game 2 of their series.

The Tigresses pulled off a 76-72 shocker in Game 1 last Wednesday to inch closer to ending a 17-year title drought.

For the Fighting Maroons, on the other hand, it would be the first of their two tries to capture the crown they lost last year to the now dethroned Ateneo de Manila University.

UP banked on its seasoned veterans and championship experience to bully its way to an emphatic, 97-67 blow out of the Green Archers in the lopsided series opener last Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Now, the Fighting Maroons are just a win away from claiming its second title in three seasons and fourth overall for the school.

But finishing off La Salle, which entered the championship round for the first time in six years, is easier said than done.

In fact, UP in its last two of three straight finals stints dropped the second game.

The Fighting Maroons also won the series opener over the Blue Eagles in Season 84 only to drop the next match before eventually pulling off a stunner in overtime in the deciding Game 3. UP wasn’t as lucky the following season as Ateneo scored a reverse sweep of the series to steal the throne.

“We’re aware of that,” UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde said.

The mentor reminds his players that an emphatic crushing of La Salle in Game 1 is not an assurance that they already have the title in the bag. UP still has to win one more.

“We still need to work on what needs to be worked on. We still have lapses to address at both ends, we’ll focus on that,” he said.

UP’s defensive effort spelled the difference in Game 1, disrupting the Green Archers’ offense into shooting 27-of-70 from the field and forcing them to commit 18 costly turnovers that they converted to 24 points.

The Fighting Maroons’ stingy defense was complemented by their main gunners’ hot hands.

Harold Alarcon, Rookie of the Year Francis Lopez, JD Cagulangan, Gerry Abadiano, Aldous Torculas and Season 85 Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf submitted big numbers on offense to bury La Salle.

Now the Green Archers, who saw their nine-game winning streak snapped, have to figure out a way to get past UP’s physicality and suffocating defense.

La Salle’s objective is to equalize and force a Game 3 on Wednesday at the MOA Arena for a crack at ending a seven-year title drought.

“Our mindset remains the same: One game at a time. We’ll focus on Game 2. Improve on what needs to be improved and then cover up our lapses,” Kevin Quiambao said as he vowed to help La Salle extend the series on the same day he will receive his MVP and Mythical 5 awards.

Quiambao, who averaged almost a triple-double in the elimination round, was the recipient of the Fighting Maroons’ aggressive defense as he had a quiet 11 points and six rebounds in the series opener.

First year La Salle head coach Topex Robinson’s strategy and tactics will be tested as he tries to get his boys ready for another UP assault.

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