Big man Carl Tamayo sat out the last eight minutes on a right ankle injury, but the University of the Philippines still pulled through as it reached the finals for the second straight season in the 85th University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Gerry Abadiano and Joel Cagalungan scored the key baskets with Tamayo watching on the bench and his feet dipped on ice, sending the second seed Fighting Maroons to a 69-61 triumph over the third seed National University Bulldogs.
Malick Diouf unloaded a game-high 17 points, to go with 21 boards for the Maroons, who are in their fourth finals appearance since 1986.
“We’re happy that we’ll be getting another chance to win another championship. We started out flat. But I believe the team bounced back from where we started, losing Carl in the first half, when he’s not 100%. The team responded well to the challenge that was given to us,” said Maroons’ coach Goldwin Monteverde.
Tamayo finished with eight points and left the court with 8:35 to go and with the NU Bulldogs in front, 54-50.
With Tamayo sidelined, the Fighting Maroons fought the Bulldogs to two deadlocks. UP’s Terrence Fortea forced the last one, 61-all, on a split free throw off NU’s Kean Baclaan’s foul.
UP first moved ahead, 63-61, on Abadiano’s basket off his steal off Omar John’s bad pass to Baclaan with 1:40 left.
After NU missed three attempts, two from Patrick Yu, Cagulangan’s triple off Zavier Lucero’s pass pushed UP to a comfortable 66-61 edge with 58 ticks to go.
“It’s their experience, or you call it composure. They had their adversities in this kind of the situation. Dito sila nabuhat ng mga veterans. Medyo masakit, pero it was still was a good run for us,” said coach Jeff Napa of NU, which, however, still had its best finish since reaching the Final Four back in 2015.