UP Fighting Maroons fend off NU Bulldogs to book return ticket to UAAP Finals

The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons hung tight in the endgame and pulled off all the stops to take down the resilient National University (NU) Bulldogs, 69-61, on Wednesday and make their way to the UAAP Season 85 Finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

NU pressed hard and grabbed a 61-58 lead behind the playmaking of rookie guard Kean Baclaan. However, UP’s guards stepped up late as Terrence Fortea, Gerry Abadiano, and JD Cagulangan all had hands in the difference-making run that turned the deficit to a 66-61 lead with 53.3 seconds left.

Abadiano first made a short jumper before Fortea split his free throws to level the game at 61. Abadiano then stole Omar John's handoff to Kean Baclaan and went all the way for the fastbreak basket before Cagulangan drilled a triple to cap the telling run of UP.

"We're happy that we'll be getting another chance to win the championship," said Fighting Maroons head coach Goldwin Monteverde.

"For the game, we started out flat. Losing Carl in the first half, he wasn't 100 percent, the team responded well to the challenge given to us," added the decorated bench tactician as Tamayo hurt his ankle midway through the first period but he will be ready in the Finals according to Monteverde.

MVP frontrunner Malick Diouf showed the way with 17 points, 21 rebounds, and three blocks, while Zavier Lucero added 12 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three blocks, and two steals.

Gonzales got 11 points, while Cagulangan and Abadiano went for eight and seven points, respectively.

Jake Figueroa made 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for the third place Bulldogs, while Kean Baclaan produced 10 of his 14 points in the fourth frame.

Jonas Tibayan and Germy Mahinay played their last game for NU.

The Fighting Maroons will wait for the winner of the Ateneo de Manila University-Adamson University series.