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The De La Salle University Green Archers forced a winner-take-all match for a finals berth after they outlasted the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, 83-80, in the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball Final Four, on Wednesday, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The two teams will face off one more time on Friday afternoon with the winner advancing to the best-of-three finals.
"The boys really played hard today. The boys played 40 minutes of solid basketball. It was a disciplined effort and everyone was on the same page today," said Green Archers head coach Derrick Pumaren.
La Salle led by as much as 22 but UP came storming back, cutting the deficit down to six, 75-81, after baskets from Ricci Rivero, Gerry Abadiano, and Malick Diouf, with 24.5 seconds on the clock. UP then fouled and sent Justine Baltazar to the line on the other end which he both missed.
Those misses set up an Abadiano triple to slash the Fighting Maroons deficit to just three, 78-81, with 13.4 ticks to go. UP then tried Evan Nelle's free-throw shooting, which he split but enough to give the Green Archers a four-point lead with 12.1 seconds, 82-78, as Rivero flunked his attempt from deep in the ensuing play.
Trailing by 11 at the half, the Fighting Maroons opened the third quarter with a short 5-2 spurt to inch within single digit, 42-50. But the Green Archers responded with a 16-2 run of their own, highlighted by a rare four-point play by Evan Nelle, for a 22-point advantage with 2:25 left in the third, 66-44. However, UP answered with 11 straight points to end the frame down by just 11, 55-66.
Nelle proved his steady hand on the big stage with 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field to go with seven assists, six rebounds, and three steals.
Justine Baltazar chipped in 15 points and 18 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks, while Kurt Lojera had 11 points, five rebounds, and four assists.
Diouf and Rivero had 18 points apiece for the Fighting Maroons with the former grabbing 20 rebounds and adding three blocks. The latter also got eight rebounds and five blocks.
Cebuano big man Carl Tamayo shot poorly at 2-of-14 for just seven points.
Key cog CJ Cansino did not play due to a bone bruise he acquired in UP's win against Ateneo de Manila University last Sunday. (JNP)