By CARLO ANOLIN
University of the Philippines is just a win away from reaching history and its faithful is hoping the coronation will be on Wednesday.
So expect a large crowd of UP supporters to troop the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City as the Fighting Maroons go for a sweep against the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the newest episode of their Battle of Katipunan series.
Tipoff is at 6 p.m. with the Fighting Maroons determined to break the 36-year title drought since bagging the UAAP men’s basketball title in 1986 behind the efforts of Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc, and Eric Altamirano.
UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde, however, maintained a laser-sharp focus despite drawing first blood against Ateneo with a thrilling 81-74 overtime win last May 8.
The Maroons also handed the Blue Eagles back-to-back losses since their last meeting in the elimination round on Labor Day, ending the defending champions’ 39-game win streak since October 2019.
“Sa akin kasi, to be honest, ‘di ko talaga iniisip ‘yong streak nila before or about just beating Ateneo. It’s more on about, kumbaga naka-focus lang kami lahat lagi doon sa goal namin,” said Monteverde.
“Siyempre, if we have a goal along the way, kung sino man makaharap mo, we gotta do something to overcome that. To me, I just give my best and just help the team and kami, to help each other to achieve this. ‘Yon lang talaga iniisip ko,” added the multi-titled juniors’ champion coach.
James Spencer served as the game changer for the Maroons in Game 1 after firing a game-tying three to force overtime.
Joining in the fray, not only in the clutch, were do-it-all forward Zavier Lucero and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Carl Tamayo while veteran Ricci Rivero became Ateneo’s punisher at the free throw line especially at crunch time.
Expected to lead Ateneo’s fightback are Ange Kouame, SJ Belangel and Raffy Verano. Dave Ildefonso, Gian Mamuyac, and Tyler Tio have yet to find their scoring groove.
Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin, for his part, keeps his head high up and remains optimistic that his wards can turn things around and force a Game 3 on Friday, May 13.
“There is talk that, you know, ‘Hey, this is just Game 1 and we have to win Game 2 and we’re still in it’ and that is important and it’s true,” said Baldwin after a solemn locker room session. “But these are guys that have their pedigree is winning basketball games, not losing basketball games and they’re bit fish out of water right now but they have to learn the lessons from losing.
“I said that after losing to UP the last time and I think they were the patches of the game we played very well but obviously not nearly enough and UP deserves the credit,” added the three-time UAAP champion coach.