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The University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons came from behind to defeat the four-time defending champions Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles, 81-74, in Game One of the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball best-of-three finals on Sunday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
With the win, the Fighting Maroons now have a 1-0 series lead and stand a win away from ending a long 36-year title drought. The last time UP won the title was back in 1986 when a team led by Benjie Paras reigned over the UAAP.
The Fighting Maroons showed incredible resilience as they rallied from a 70-64 deficit with a minute to go in regulation behind the efforts of rookie Zavier Lucero and James Spencer.
After UP’s super rookie Carl Tamayo was fouled and missed both his shots from the line, Lucero grabbed the offensive board and converted an and-one play to inch within three, 67-70, with 32.6 ticks to go.
The Fighting Maroons then forced an Ateneo turnover on the other end as Ange Kouame could not handle the inbound pass from Gian Mamuyac to give UP back the ball with 27.6 seconds remaining. Spencer then drained a long three-pointer for the 70-all tie with 24.7 ticks left on the clock.
In the extra session, UP shrugged off an early three-point deficit and scored eight straight points via a Lucero three, an and-one by Ricci, and Tamayo's layup for a 79-74 lead with 2:04 left.
The Fighting Maroons then played suffocating defense on Ateneo, holding it scoreless the rest of the way for the 1-0 advantage.
“Maraming ups and downs nangyari on both ends but we just kept reminding each other not to give up,” said UP coach Goldwin Monteverde.
Rivero had 19 points, including a flawless 11-of-11 from the free-throw line. Lucero got 17 points, 13 rebounds, and two blocks.
Spencer also stepped up with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field, while Malick Diouf, who fouled out with 4:42 left in overtime, finished with 10 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and a block.
Kouame led the Blue Eagles with 18 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks, four assists, and two steals. SJ Belangel and Raffy Verano each tallied 17 points as well.
Dave Ildefonso was limited to just six points on 2-of-6 shooting while committing six turnovers.
The Fighting Maroons will aim for the title while Ateneo will seek to equalize in Game Two on Wednesday, 6 pm. (JNP)