At crunch time, it’s always Ricci Rivero, who you call to save the day.
Just like on Sunday evening when the 23-year-old Rivero shot two free throws to give the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons the winning baskets that led to a historic 84-83 victory over defending champion Ateneo Blue Eagles.
Rivero’s baskets changed the course of the 84th University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament and he believes that it was the grace of God which made it possible for UP to pull off the upset.
With the Maroons’ win, the Blue Eagles were denied an outright finals’ slot with their first loss in 39 matches since 2018.
Had the Blue Eagles completed a 14-game sweep of their elimination round, Ateneo would have gained the first finals’ seat, while a stepladder semifinals and playoff for the second championship slot would have taken place.
For coach Goldwin Monteverde, he had complete trust in Rivero’s playmaking, saying he will be able to help the Maroons at the last minute of the contest.
“I’ve always believed in Ricci ever since magkasama kami, and ‘yung trust ko sa kanya talagang malaki and I think he knows it. The team also trusts him sa mga ganoong situation, and I know he could do things for the team. Nandoon ‘yung tapang and confidence,” said Monteverde.
And for the first time in the 28-year history of the Final Four, the Blue Eagles will seek a finals slot together with UP, La Salle, and Far Eastern University.
But UP has not beaten the Blue Eagles for the last six years. And the last time the Maroons did it was with a 56-52 triumph on Oct. 8, 2016.
The Final Four starts on Wednesday with the top-seeded Eagles, who finished with a 13-1 win-loss slate, playing the fourth seed Tamaraws at 6 p.m.
The Maroons, who also have a twice-to-beat incentive just like Ateneo at no. 2 with their 12-2 card, meet the Archers earlier at 2 p.m.