As the race for the Final Four gets tighter, the UP Fighting Maroons put themselves in a good position to earn a seat in the postseason with a rousing 82-71 win over the NU Bulldogs on Saturday at the Ynares Center, Antipolo.
With the victory, UP rose to solo fourth place with a 6-6 record, keeping an arm's length ahead of the UST Growling Tigers (5-6) and FEU Tamaraws (5-6).
Bright Akhuetie powered his way to 21 points on an efficient 9-for-12 clip to go along with 10 rebounds. Paul Desiderio finished with 12 points while Juan Gomez De Liaño once again filled the stat sheet with 10 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists.
The Fighting Maroons have had an up and down season. And after a disheartening defeat versus the Adamson Falcons in their last game, they found themselves in desperation mode in trying to get into the top four. Playing with a sense of urgency, they played lights out versus the Bulldogs.
"The emphasis is there we agreed, we had to be 11 games wiser now, there were a lot of times that we really did not mature in the games that we had in the past especially going up against strong rallies," coach Bo Perasol said. "They were poised to have a strong rally again but we were able to hold off not only because the starters were there but like Gelo (Vito) here, for those who were able to step up, I have to special mentions to those guys."
Just as Perasol mentioned, the Bulldogs kept threatening to steal the victory. Dave Ildefonso tried to single-handedly keep his team in the game. The rookie scored 22 of his team-high 24 points in the second half alone. Unfortunately, Ildefonso and the rest of the Bulldogs could not overcome a very determined UP squad. They sunk to 3-8 in the standings, on the brink of another losing season.
"We cannot settle here, we have a very very important game next weekend," said Perasol as his team still has two games left on their schedule. "What we did here was to just give us a chance, we need to win the next games ahead of us."
UP 82 - Akhuetie 21, Desiderio 12, Ju. Gomez de Liaño 10, Vito 10, Manzo 8, Murrell 8, Prado 6, Gozum 4, Ja. Gomez de Liaño 2, Diego 1, Tungcab 0, Jaboneta 0, Spencer 0, Lim 0.
NU 71 - D. Ildefonso 24, Sinclair 13, Gallego 9, Rike 7, S. Ildefonso 6, Salim 6, Clemente 5, Gaye 1, Diputado 0, Yu 0, Tibayan 0, Galinato 0.
QUARTER SCORES: 17-15, 40-30, 60-49, 82-71
-- UP's 53.6 field-goal percentage is the highest by a team this season. As a team, they also had the most assists in a game with 28.
-- The Fighting Maroons bullied the Bulldogs in the paint, outscoring them 58-32.
UP - Nov. 10 (Sat) vs UST Growling Tigers at Araneta Coliseum
NU - Nov. 7 (Wed) vs DLSU Green Archers at Araneta Coliseum