The last time the University of the Philippines fought for the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) basketball crown, I was a sophomore in UP’s Diliman campus.
That was in 1986. A long 32 years later, on Nov. 28, 2018, UP once again stands on the threshold of winning that coveted basketball championship.
This moment came after the UP Fighting Maroons outlasted the determined Soaring Falcons of Adamson University for the right to fight the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
The first game of the best-of-three series between the Blue Eagles and Fighting Maroons will be on Dec. 1.
It was an uphill climb for the Fighting Maroons to earn that coveted championship slot.
The Adamson Soaring Falcons held the advantage. The Fighting Maroons had to beat the Soaring Falcons twice in order to enter the championship round. All the Soaring Falcons had to do was beat the Fighting Maroons once and the Soaring Falcons’ date with the Blue Eagles was sealed.
The Fighting Maroons won a hard fought first game against the Falcons on Nov. 24. The matter was decided only at the last 40 seconds of the game’s regulation time. The Fighting Maroons beat the Soaring Falcons, 73 to 71.
The stats of that particular game were revealing. The Fighting Maroons had a 43.06% field goal percentage while the Soaring Falcons only had 35.29%.
The Fighting Maroons scored only 8 out of 12 free throws while the Soaring Falcons put in 22 out of 31. This showed that the Fighting Maroons had a more determined defensive game on Nov. 24.
Another set of stats bolstered that view. This can be seen in the number of turnovers. The Fighting Maroons only had 10 while the Soaring Falcons committed 18 costly turnovers.
And the end result was a victory for the Fighting Maroons on Nov. 24. But the Soaring Falcons still had a second chance.
On Nov. 28, the two teams met again. This time, the Soaring Falcons was determined to seize what the Fighting Maroons denied them four days earlier.
UP controlled the first half of the game.
The Fighting Maroons scored the first two points in the rematch. But four quick minutes later, the Soaring Falcons seized the lead. That turned out to be a short-lived edge.
After five minutes of the first quarter, the Fighting Maroons piled on the points, leading the Soaring Falcons by five points, 13-8.
With a little over three minutes left in the first quarter, the Fighting Maroons continued to pummel the Soaring Falcons with the score at 16-9 in favor of UP.
However, Adamson succeeded in breaking UP’s momentum by scoring two free throws. The count stood at 16-11. It was a very short respite.
The Fighting Maroons let loose and padded their lead to ten by the end of the first quarter, 26-16.
At the beginning of the second quarter, the Soaring Falcons puts in two free throws. The count was now 26-18. Then the Soaring Falcons made their move.
With a quick three-pointer and a couple of jump shots, the Soaring Falcons closed in on the Fighting Maroons. At one point, the Soaring Falcons cut the lead of the Fighting Maroons to just five.
Then the tension mounted. Adamson cut UP’s lead to just three, on the strength of a seven-zero run at the beginning of the second quarter.
It was UP’s turn to put on the brakes on Adamson’s rally. A solid three-point shot upped the lead of the Fighting Maroons to six, the score stood at 31-25.
Then, it was the turn of the Soaring Falcons. A quick series of jump shots cut the lead of the Fighting Maroons to just one point, 31-30, with five minutes left in the first half of the game.
The rest of the second quarter was a series of ups and downs for both teams. By the end of the first half, the score stood at 51-42 in favor of UP.
When play resumed in the second half, UP went on a rampage. In a searing volley that broke the defenses of the Soaring Falcons, the Fighting Maroons upped their lead to 16, 60-44.
The Soaring Falcons then regrouped and managed to cut the lead to just five points with less than three minutes left in the third quarter, 61-56.
UP managed to score two points against Adamson’s barrage with one minute and 34 seconds left in the third quarter.
And the Adamson momentum succeeded in taking the lead from UP at the end of the third quarter. The score stood 67-64 in favor of Adamson.
Adamson then attempted to keep the initiative in the first few minutes of the fourth quarter. With less than eight minutes left in the final quarter, Adamson upped their lead to five points, 69-64.
With six minutes remaining in regulation time, Adamson enjoyed a slim one-point lead over UP, 70-69.
Then the momentum changed swiftly.
By the last two minutes of regulation, UP had a razor thin lead of a single point, 74-73.
With 10 seconds remaining in regulation time, UP led Adamson by three points, 78-75. UP was on the verge of winning the game. But Adamson refused to concede.
A quick three-pointer from the Soaring Falcons, sending the game into overtime. UP’s joy was premature.
With two minutes and 39 seconds left, the Soaring Falcons upped their lead to six, 84-78. Things were looking dim for UP.
Then it was UP’s turn to dazzle Adamson. With two quick shots, UP cut Adamson’s lead to just two, 82-84, with less than two minutes left in the game.
After a mad scramble for the ball, UP managed to tie the score, 84-84 with 58 seconds left.
Adamson then split their free throw. Score stood at 85-84 with 45 seconds left. Adamson had the lead.
With 27 seconds left, the Fighting Maroons scored a three-point shot. UP grabbed the lead, 87-85.
Five seconds later, Adamson put in two quick points. Score stood at 87-87.
It was anybody’s ballgame. But then came the twist. With six seconds left in overtime, UP scored two points, putting the Fighting Maroons on top for the final time.
In the end, UP outlasted Adamson, 89-87. UP’s date with Ateneo was on.
Now the hard question.
Can the Fighting Maroons defeat the Blue Eagles?
Part of that answer will be known on Dec. 1.