Centro Escolar University moved on cusp of the title and a possible season sweep after taking down Olivarez College, 78-73, in Game 1 of the Finals in the 5th PG Flex Linoleum-Universities and Colleges Basketball League (UCBL) Monday, Jan. 30, at the Paco Arena in Manila.
Despite lording over the competition with a sweep in the elimination round, nothing came easy for the Scorpions as they still had to withstand a furious rally from the Sea Lions in the endgame to draw first blood in the best-of-three Finals series.
Ayodeji Balogun compiled 12 points and nine rebounds while Leonard Santiago added 13. Franz Diaz and Vince Ferrer were the other players in double digits with 11 and 10 points respectively.
CEU showed no signs of rust and actually looked sharp after a week-long break, establishing double-digit leads a couple of times throughout the contest, the last time, a comfortable 14-point lead, 77-63 with a little over three minutes left in the payoff period.
Just how it always manage to find ways to storm back every time CEU was threatening to break the game wide open, Olivarez got a sudden breath of life in the waning minutes in the form of a 10-0 run behind John Umali and Edmund Dela Cruz to cut the lead down to four, 77-73 with 40 seconds left.
The Scorpions, however, was rock solid in its final defensive stand forcing the Sea Lions to well-contested shots to preserve the victory.
Dela Cruz paced Olivarez with 20 points and 17 rebounds while Umali added 16 points and seven boards, all of which were not enough as they saw their seven-game winning streak from the end of the elimination to the step-ladder semis snapped.
CEU can finish off Olivarez in Game 2 on Thursday, Feb. 2. Top individual honors are also set to be handed out before the game.