Patience is virtue for UAAP champions UP Fighting Maroons

For the first time in 36 years, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons are the kings of the UAAP men's basketball.

Players and coaching staff of the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons celebrate after ending their 36-year title drought. UP dethroned Ateneo, 72-69, in Game 3 of the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball Finals at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City Friday night, May 13. (Mark Balmores / MB Photo)

UP finally reached the end of the long and winding road and conquered more than three decades of setbacks to follow up the legendary feat made by basketball greats Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc, Eric Altamirano under the tutelage of coach Joe Lipa.

Season 81 was the closest the Maroons can get after barging into the Finals for the first time in 32 years with former captain Paul Desiderio carrying over the "Atin 'to!" battlecry.

In the Finals though, Ateneo swept UP in the best-of-three series for the two-peat.

The following year, the Maroons, holding a twice-to-beat advantage, suffered a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the Growling Tigers in the stepladder semis but the Blue Eagles still prevailed in the Finals with yet another sweep en route to the three-peat.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic happened in 2020, which halted not only Season 82 but also and scrapped the entire Season 83.

For the winning coach, UP's mentor Goldwin Monteverde who replaced Bo Perasol, the long wait is definitely worth it as the Maroons dethroned the Eagles, 72-69, and denied them of their four-peat pursuit behind the heroics of former NCAA Juniors Most Valuable Player JD Cagulangan in Game 3 of the UAAP men's basketball Finals on May 13, interestingly a Friday the 13th.

"Sobrang tuwa ko sa panalo. First kasi 'yong papaano kami nanalo kanina," said Monteverde, who continued his own three-peat campaign in the senior level after steering the National University Bullpups to back-to-back titles in Seasons 81 and 82. "Again, we were down, parang kung titignan 'yong game, parang papunta na sa Ateneo. But hindi pa rin nag-give up 'yong team. There were times kanina during the game na they were up by five but the team managed to regroup again. Talk it out kung ano man napag-usapan in huddle, na-execute naman."

Leading the Maroons to a historic championship is Monteverde's way of giving back the love and support and repaying the trust to the UP community that accepted him for taking the gargantuan task as the team's new head coach.

Perasol, for his part, tipped his hat to Monteverde for sharing his wits and staying patient and the players for their unwavering will and firm resolve to become this year's champion.

The Maroons finished the elimination round at second-seed with a 12-2 record and only lost at the hands of Ateneo and Adamson. Despite the twice-to-beat advantage, it wasn't a walk in the park for UP as it survived De La Salle in the semifinals series before the Finals clash with Ateneo.

"I know coach Gold is one with me when we say that we give glory to God for this victory, for this championship," said Perasol, who finally savored a UAAP title not as a coach but as a program director. "Laging sinasabi ng tao na pag-deciding game it's all about heart or it's all about the games of the players. But I would like to add the brilliance of coach Gold into that. Hindi lamang 'yong fight ng mga players ang nangyari sa championship na 'to kung hindi 'yong composure at tsaka 'yong wisdom ni coach Gold in leading his team, in leading our team.

"He (Monteverde) did not give up. He was a picture of calmness. 'Yon ang nakita ng mga players and they just followed him. 'Yon lang naman ang importante. Saying that, to end this 36-year championship drought is really sweet," said Perasol.

To say that the win was because of a total team effort is actually an understatement. After all, Cagulangan isn't the only one who carried the team to victory.

The 21-year-old Butuan native may have fired the game-winning three with 0.5 seconds left but CJ Cansino, who also drained a clutch triple from the top of the key with 47.8 left in regulation, was there to force the overtime, and Malick Diouf gave enough reason to prove why he was eventually hailed as the Finals Most Valuable Player.

Diouf finished with 17 points along with nine rebounds and three steals, Cansino delivered 14 points built on four-three pointers, and Cagulangan made up for his dismal 4-of-12 shooting and three turnovers, with 13 points including a game-winning three, five rebounds, and four assists.