It was a nail-biter reminiscent of last season’s finals bid: the UP Fighting Maroons head to head with the Adamson University Soaring Falcons. Last year’s semifinals saw UP snatching the finals spot away from Adamson, knocking away its twice-to-beat advantage in what was arguably the two most exciting games of Season 81 of the University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball tournament.
In their much anticipated first meeting in Season 82, UP’s Bright Akhuetie and prized recruit Kobe Paras rallied the Fighting Maroons to victory in overtime, 83-82.
Akhuetie filed his second double-double of the season with 18 points and 18 rebounds, while the debuting Paras successfully emerged from his baptism of fire with 20 markers and six boards. Save for Juan Gomez de Liaño’s one trip to the line, Akhuetie and Paras received the most charity chances. Both also clocked in the longest playing times among the UP squad this season, with Paras playing for 41:05 and Akhuetie for 34:38.
The tight first quarter saw the Maroons ahead with the first lead change of the match happening in the last few minutes, ending with a two-point deficit for UP at 18-20. Six of those points were off David Murrell’s field goals, six from Paras’s basket and free throws, four from Akhuetie’s field goal and charities, and two courtesy of Jun Manzo’s basket.
But Adamson was hell-bent on widening the gap in the next quarter. One-and-done Falcon guard Val Chauca surely made his presence felt by banking 15 of his team’s 21 points: nine points from three treys, four from two inside the arc, and two from the line. UP struggled against Adamson’s 11-0 run in the second half of the quarter, with only one inside shot by Akhuetie and one of two free throws from Paras. The team from Diliman trailed by 16 at the end of the first half, 25-41.
As if the double-digit damage to UP wasn’t enough, Adamson veteran Jerrick Ahanmisi shot two, less than 30 seconds into the third quarter, marking the biggest lead in the game at 18. But the Fighting Maroons weren’t about to take it lightly.
Whatever happened in the Maroon dugout during half-time was the much needed shot in the arm as UP retaliated with three runs after Ahanmisi’s basket: 9-0, 7-0, and 6-0, with the in-betweens accounting for only three Adamson points. Less than two minutes remaining, Falcon AP Manlapaz stopped UP’s run with a two-pointer, only to be answered by Paras’s inside shot. Adamson center Lenda Douanga sank another basket before Juan Gomez de Liaño’s trey sealed the deal for UP to end the third quarter with a two-point lead, 52-50.
Heart-stopping would be one of the best ways to describe the last quarter, with five deadlocks and six lead changes across the last ten minutes of regulation time. UP’s James Spencer kicked things off with a three-point shot a few seconds in and Adamson replied with a 7-0 run. With 22 seconds left and the team from Ermita up by three, Paras drove to the basket against three Falcons as fellow Maroon Javi Gomez de Liaño ran outside the arc. As if guided by a sixth sense, Paras executed a smooth no-look pass to the UP forward who was free to take the three-pointer. With 17.8 seconds remaining and 10 left in the shot clock, Gomez de Liaño’s trey slid into the ring to tie the game. With no answer from Adamson, the match went into overtime.
The first three minutes of the five-minute overtime saw UP behind by seven, 75-82, with only a two-pointer from Akhuetie against nine Falcon points. But Adamson began to unravel after its shot clock violation in the last two minutes. Akhuetie made his two charities. With less than a minute to go, Paras scored two. Manzo stole the ball from Ahanmisi with 39 seconds left and went for the layup, cutting down the Falcon lead to one.
With Adamson in possession and looking to set up its play, Maroon Juan Gomez de Liaño intercepted a pass from Ahanmisi to Manlapaz and ran with it. A mad scramble in the dying seconds of overtime ended with Akhuetie getting fouled. Sinking both his free throws with 2.8 seconds remaining, he gave UP the one-point lead. Ricci Rivero then foiled Falcon Jerom Lastimosa’s attempt at a three by tipping the ball and securing UP’s win.
The UP Fighting Maroons will be facing the National University Bulldogs next, on September 18, 10:30am, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.