By NIKOLE JAVIER
Reigning Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf lifted defending champion University of the Philippines past National University, 69-61, in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament Final Four Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Diouf had a huge defensive outing on the floor for the Fighting Maroons and poured 17 points on top of 21 rebounds to go along with three blocks.
Zavier Lucero also added his own double-double performance of 12 points apart from 11 rebounds while Cyril Gonzales tallied 11.
The Fighting Maroons, who were armed with a twice-to-beat advantage, wasted no time and booked the early flight to the finals.
UP had to shrug off an early crisis following Carl Tamayo’s awkward landing in the first quarter, resulting in a sprained right ankle.
Tied at 54-all in the fourth quarter after Kean Baclaan’s layup, Diouf quickly came to his senses and answered with a basket to untangle UP from the deadlock.
However, Baclaan would continue his assault with five straight points capped by a triple to retake the three-point lead for NU.
Breaking out from another deadlock at 61-all, Gerry Abadiano took matters into his own hands with a crucial steal and raced quickly to the basket for a layup with 1:49 to go which rippled into a telling 11-0 run until the final buzzer.
With 53.3 seconds left, Cagulangan had more to deliver and knocked a three-pointer before he was sent to the line in the next possession and earned one of his two freebies to create a six-point breather for UP.
At this point, the Fighting Maroons were already too deep into their momentum which was wrapped up by Harold Alarcon on the foul line with two more points that iced the game.
“Well, we’re happy that we’ll be getting another chance to win the championship . For the game a while ago, we just felt we started out flat. One thing, I believe the team bounced back from where we started. Losing Carl in first half he wasn’t 100%. But the team responded well to the challenge given to us. Credit, respect to NU, they had a very good season. Played really well they were in fact a challenge for us,” said UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde. “However the team responded to this game, I’m very proud of them for keeping on fighting during the game.”
John Figueroa’s 16-point outing paced the Bulldogs while Baclaan and Mike Malonzo had 14 and 11, respectively.
NU will miss out on the finals for eight straight years.
UP 69 -- Diouf 17, Lucero 12, Gonzales 11, Cagulangan 8, Abadiano 7, Fortea 6, Tamayo 6, Alarcon 2, Spencer 0, Galinato 0, Torculas 0.
NU 61 -- Figueroa 16, Baclaan 14, Malonzo 11, John 8, Yu 2, Clemente 2, Enriquez 2, Mahinay 2, Minerva 2, Galinato 2, Manansala 0, Palacielo 0, Tibayan 0.
Quarters: 17-19, 35-38, 54-45, 69-61.