University of the Philippines (UP) suffered an ugly gash when National University (NU) inflicted the defending champions their only defeat in the first round.
But more than exacting revenge in a 75-63 win over the Bulldogs on Sunday night for a firm grip of the lead, the Fighting Maroons inched closer to their ultimate goal of retaining the optimum prize in UAAP men’s basketball.
“Honestly, it’s not about NU. We just talked about opening the second round strong, gathering as many wins as we could to enter the Final Four and get that shot again in the Finals,’’ said UP coach Goldwyn Monteverde.
Cyril Gonzales was in a zone and Zavier Lucero found his range as the Maroons picked up a fourth consecutive victory, their seventh overall in eight games in front of a delighted UP crowd at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“We treat every game the same way. So for me, this win will get us closer to our goal,’’ said Monteverde.
One hurdle down
It also removed a dangerous hurdle in the Bulldogs, at least in the second round, as the Maroons are now playing at full strength with healthy starters JD Cagulangan and Carl Tamayo, whose back-to-back jumpers in the final two minutes prevented an NU fightback.
Gonzales turned up his offense this time as the defense-oriented guard delivered 12 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter highlighted by a huge dagger of a three with 47.3 seconds left that pierced through the hearts of the Bulldogs.
“I just did what I had to do. My offense was just a bonus,’’ said Gonzales, who only scored a total of nine points in his first six games.
Lucero nailed five threes and finished with 16 points for the Maroons, who face Adamson next on Wednesday.
“It was a team effort and a step in the right direction. I’ll just do my best all the time, we have the best record in the league,’’ said Lucero.
James Spencer’s layup off a break pushed them ahead, 64-63, and the Maroons never looked back as the Bulldogs fell into an array of unwanted miscues down the stretch.
Michael Malonzo had 12 points and Steve Enriquez added 11 for the Bulldogs, who dropped to 5-3 after turning over the ball four times in the closing minutes.
“We played for 30 minutes, this game was played for 40. They dictated the game and those turnovers were crucial during the last stretch,’’ said NU coach Jeff Napa.
Far Eastern University (FEU) scaled the heights of a deep hole and turned back University of the East, 75-68, in the other game.
Down by 15 in the first half, the Tamaraws transformed the deficit into a 14-point advantage built on the timely hits coming from Xyrus Torres, Bryan Sajonia and L-Jay Gonzales while forcing the Warriors into a maze of costly turnovers on the other end.
Something positive for NU
Torres had six threes and five steals to finish with 22 points, and Patrick Tchuente chipped in 13 points and 11 rebounds, his uncontested two-handed slam in the final minute capping FEU’s third win in a row after a 0-5 start.
Meanwhile, the Lady Bulldogs gave the National University faithful something to smile about after dominating the Lady Maroons, 95-68, that stretched their unprecedented winning streak to 104 games.
The Lady Bulldogs shot 13-of-26 from the line and gave up 21 easy points to the Fighting Maroons off their 29 miscues, but they remained unstoppable, leading as many as 64-28 early in the third quarter and never looking back.
Tin Cayabyab led NU with 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Camille Clarin had 13 points, while Karl Pingol chipped in 11 points and led her team in steals, owning five of their 17. INQ
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