Maroons force playoffs for Final 4 edge
STUNNING last time out, defending champions University of the Philippines redeemed themselves in a big way against hapless University of Santo Tomas and increased their bid for a coveted goal yesterday.
The Fighting Maroons leaned on a telling breakout in the second half, chained the Growling Tigers 78-60 and assured themselves of at least a playoff berth for a win-once incentive in the Final Four of the 85th UAAP basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.
Carl Tamayo finished with a game-high 19 points, to go with nine rebounds for UP, while Cyril Gonzales had 14 markers.
Six-foot-11 Senegalese import Malick Diouf also added 10 points, 14 boards and six assists, making up for a stunning 80-82 loss to La Salle four days ago and improving to 11-2.
UST, coming off a 57-67 setback to National University last Saturday, absorbed its 11th straight loss for 1-11.
In the second game, La Salle hacked a 63-58 decision over NU for its third straight win.
Penny Estacio led the Green Archers with 13 points and two caroms, while Evan Nelle had 10 markers, one rebound and three dimes.
Michael Phillips narrowly missed a double-double of nine points and 11 boards as La Salle improved to 6-6 for solo fourth.
The Bulldogs saw their four-game winning streak come to a screeching halt and fell to 9-4.
“Si coach Gold (Monteverde) rarely talks about the standings before the game because our season has been built on growing teams, just building each game,” UP assistant coach Christian Luanzon said.
“But at the same time he realizes the importance of twice hitting, obviously a bad advantage,” he added.
The Maroons also whipped the Tigers 76-61 in their first-round duel last October 22.
UP took a 37-34 halftime deficit that it padded to 59-49 heading into the payoff period.
A Gonzales triple ended the Maroons’ 11-0 blitz that made it 70-49 at the 7:33 mark of the final stanza that put the game out of UST’s hands.
Nic Cabañero paced the Tigers with 14 and seven, while Adama Faye contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“It was a pretty hard-earned win for us,” Archers tactician Derrick Pumaren said. “We know NU is the No. 2 team, so we just want to keep pounding, keep digging out there.”
La Salle also avenged a 76-80 loss to NU when they first met last October 19.
The Archers took a 32-28 lead into halftime and still held a 48-37 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
Jake Figueroa scored 19 points and pulled down six rebounds for the Bulldogs, while John Lloyd Clemente had 15 markers and 11 boards.