The UP Fighting Maroons continued their winning ways at the expense of the DLSU Green Archers, 97-81, at the Mall of Asia Arena. With the win, the Fighting Maroons solidified their Final Four bid, maintaining a solo third with a 8-6 win-loss record.
Brothers Juan Gomez de Liaño and Javier Gomez de Liaño both scored in double digits, with the former dominating both ends of the floor with 27 points and the latter chipping in with 19 points. Not far from the brothers, rookie Bright Akhuetie helped the Fighting Maroons with a double-double, adding 16 points and 20 rebounds.
In the losing effort, Justine Baltazar spearheaded the Green-and-White as he posted 22 points, three rebounds, and two assists. Aljun Melecio followed suit with 19 points, three rebounds, and six assists to help the cause of the Green Archers.
Dominating first half
The first few minutes started off with La Salle leading the match. Melecio and Baltazar quickly answered Akhuetie with back-to-back layups. However, at the 7:10 mark, UP team captain Paul Desiderio quickly replied with a layup of his own. Melecio then sunk two consecutive three-pointers to give La Salle a six point lead at 5:43.
At the 3:14 mark, the momentum shifted to the Fighting Maroons as Ja. Gomez de Liaño made his presence felt, giving UP back-to-back three-pointers and two free throws to tie it up with the Green-and-White. With 1:22 remaining in the first quarter, Ju. Gomez de Liaño contributed to the cause of the Fighting Maroons by giving back-to-back three-pointers to give the lead back to the Fighting Maroons. Frederick Tungcab closed the first quarter with a three-pointer, 17-25.
Coming in with the momentum from the first quarter, brothers Ja. Gomez de Liaño and Ju. Gomez de Liaño made a layup and a three-pointer, respectively. Team captain Kib Montalbo got past the defense of the Fighting Maroons for a layup. At the 6:06 mark, Baltazar traded baskets with Ju. Gomez de Liaño and Akhuetie to improve their teams’ respective tallies.
At the 2:04 mark of the second quarter, Desiderio, Ja. Gomez de Liaño, and Diego Dario continued to fire shots from all angles, leaving DLSU with eight unanswered points. With 54 seconds remaining at the second quarter, rookie Joaquin Manuel fired one out of two free throws. The second quarter ended with the Fighting Maroons leading the Green Archers, 29-52.
The deciding half
Maybe it was the talk given by coach Louie Gonzales during half-time, but the Green Archers played a lot better in the beginning of the second half compared to the first two quarters combined.
“Ibalik lang natin kung ano tayo, then let’s see kung maibaba natin yung lamang, then makakabalik tayo sa laro,” said Gonzales when asked about what he told his players during half-time.
(Let’s bring back what we were, then let’s see if we can lessen the deficit, then we make a comeback.)
Baltazar opened the third quarter with two floaters that gave La Salle the momentum its been missing. At the latter half of the period, the two teams just traded baskets with shots coming from Melecio as he sidesteps three defenders to make a layup, and Leonard Santillian beating the third quarter buzzer with a three-pointer. However, despite scoring 25 points compared to UP’s 23, the quarter ended with DLSU trailing the Fighting Maroons by 21 points, 75-54.
The fourth quarter began with Manuel shooting a bonus free throw due to Desiderio being called for faking a foul. DLSU then went on a 7-3 run to cut the deficit to 17 points, 78-61, at the 6:52 mark. Nonetheless, with the continuous efforts of Akhuetie and Ju. Gomez De Liaño of the Katipunan-based squad, the gap between the two teams was still in the twenties.
The team from Taft started scrambling around in the last two minutes of the game as turnovers were committed here and there. Team captain Montalbo left the court with five fouls with only one minute left into the match. Even with the hard push of Melecio and Baltazar to keep their team alive, as the Taft-based squad scored 27 more points compared to UP’s 22, the match ended with the Fighting Maroons serving DLSU their fifth loss of the season.
With UP’s win, they sit comfortably as the third seed. This will be their first Final Four appearance since UAAP Season 60 in the year 1997.
“Wala akong idea pero kailangan maging ready lang, kung ano mangyari. Challenge na yun para sakin,” Caracut said when asked about the matchup of FEU and AdU on Sunday, November 18, which will decide the fate of the Green Archers’ on their Final Four spot.
(I have no idea but we need to just be ready—whatever happens. It’s already a challenge for me.)
DLSU 81 – Baltazar 22, Melecio 19, Caracut 12, Samuel 8, Santillian 6, Montalbo 5, Serrano 5, Manuel 2, Bates 2, Dyke 0
UP 97 – Ju. Gomez de Liaño 27, Ja Gomez de Liaño 19, Akhuetie 16, Desiderio 10, Manzo 6, Jaboneta 5, Dario 5, Tungcab 3, Lim 2, Prado 2, Gozum 2, Vito 0, Murrell 0
Quarter scores: 17-25, 29-52, 54-75, 81-97