Maroons down Blue Eagles for title streak lead
Zavier Lucero took down the biggest man on the ground on Sunday night and put the University of the Philippines (UP) in position to validate a UAAP title won last season in the closest way.
Lucero smothered a short stab from Ange Kouame in the closing seconds that sealed the Maroons’ 72-66 pinch against Ateneo in the opener of the UAAP ’85 season final in front of a medley of 18,211 fans screamers dressed in blue and brown at the Mall of Asia Arena.
After that, Lucero showed professionalism by announcing what needed to be done next, just as he was when the pressure was at the point of numbness during the series opener.
“It’s great, but honestly there’s another (game to win) ahead of us,” said Lucero, whose block on the 6ft 10in Kouame with 32 seconds left snuffed out the last of the fightbacks. from Ateneo. “As soon as that bell rang, we had to move on and focus on preparing for our next game.”
“It was me in the right place at the right time. It was teamwork that we showed tonight,” added Lucero, who expects a sweep by his Maroons this time.
Lucero stood out, sure, but he wasn’t the only one doing the heavy lifting.
Harold Alarcon fired two crucial threes – the first sparking a big run by UP midway through the fourth which the defending champions protected the rest of the way. Another triple put them ahead by 10 again.
JD Cagulangan and Cyril Gonzales also helped make life difficult for the Eagles, such as Malick Diouf, the alleged season’s most valuable player (MVP), as the Maroons edged closer to retaining the title they won in three games last season also against Ateneo.
“That’s it for this season, just leave it on the floor. I’m glad we all got together and did our best,” said Lucero, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds in addition to his two important blocks.
“We hope to put this away with a good margin. If we can avoid all heroism [like in last season’s Game 3] That will be nice. But whether it’s close or not, we’ll be ready for it. We need to be poised and calm in this challenge and be able to come out on top no matter what,” Lucero said.
“This is a great opportunity [having a chance to sweep]so we have to grab it.”
Cagulangan, last season’s Game 3 hero, iced victory with a pair of goodies for UP, who are looking to make history as the only team to win two championships in a single year.
The Maroons came out on full throttle in the first half as this season’s fast-breaking No.1 team took an early lead with a entrenched double-digit advantage over efforts from Gonzales, Alarcon and Cagulangan.
They managed to increase that lead with solid contributions from the bench in addition to effectively making breaks and turning Ateneo’s costly mistakes into valuable buckets.
Forthsky Padrigao’s float, an open three from Dave Ildefonso and another long triple from Padrigao to Lucero’s outstretched arms fired the Eagles in under five.
A big setback for Ateneo was when Padrigao headed to the bench after injuring his right foot with 3:21 left in the third frame.
He had scored 16 points that kept the Blue Eagles in the fight, but could only come back a few seconds early in the fourth.
Meanwhile, the National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs earlier earned the chance to extend the league’s longest dynasty after winning their seventh straight women’s basketball crown at the expense of La Salle Lady Archers .
A 76-64 win gave the Lady Bulldogs a sweep of their best three-game streak and erased the bitter taste of their only loss in ages that the Lady Archers inflicted on them over a month ago and put ending a 106-game winning streak. .
It was what woke the sleeping giants as the Lady Bulldogs never gave the Lady Archers a chance, racing to a 23-point lead that was never in danger of being overhauled as the rookie Tin Cayabyab scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half to lead the charge.
“One of the things we won’t forget this season was losing to La Salle,” said rookie Cayabyab, who was named MVP of the final, in Filipino. “[That loss] helped us win this championship. It brought us together because we realized the things we needed to do.
NU tied the University of the Philippines as the third-victorious women’s team with their seven crowns, just behind the University of Santo Tomas and Far East, who have 11 each.
More importantly, only the 1965-71 Eastern University men’s team led by the enigmatic Sonny Jaworski is the only team in league history with as many consecutive titles as the Lady Bulldogs can. aim for next season. INQ
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