The UP Fighting Maroons boosted their Final Four chances after fending off the UST Growling Tigers, 83-69, in UAAP Season 81 Saturday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
With this win, the Fighting Maroons rose to solo fourth place with a 7-6 record, half a game ahead of the FEU Tamaraws (6-6).
Bright Akhuetie exploded for 25 points, including 13 in the fourth frame, to lead the charge. He went 11-for-15 from the field and also hauled down 18 rebounds.
Paul Desiderio finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, and four assists, while Juan Gomez de Liaño had 11 points, six boards, and five dimes.
UP completely pulled away in the final quarter, thanks to the joint efforts of Akhuetie and Janjan Jaboneta, who scored seven of his nine points in the closing stretch.
A slim four-point edge at halftime ballooned to as high as 21 points after Jaboneta's three-pointer with two minutes left.
Prior to that, Akhuetie repeatedly muscled his way to the hoop, maintaining his team's double-digit lead with his crucial inside shots, including a slam dunk at the 3:49 mark that received an ovation from the crowd.
The Growling Tigers' rousing start was spoiled by a knee injury that sent rookie sensation CJ Cansino out of the match. They were still ahead 34-26 midway through the second quarter but with Cansino off the floor, UP went on a 16-4 barrage to close out the first half.
Marvin Lee and Renzo Subido topped with 26 and 22 points, respectively, in the loss that dropped the Growling Tigers out of contention with a 5-8 card.
While this victory improved their playoff bid, the Fighting Maroons know that the job is far from done. They still need to take care of business against La Salle on Wednesday.
"Well, the best thing that this win has done for us is to place us in a position to fight for that (Final Four) slot," UP coach Bo Perasol said. "We need that one win on Wednesday. We have to put this win behind us. We cannot overthink this because there is a much more crucial game on Wednesday."
UP (83) - Akhuetie 25, Desiderio 19, Ju. Gomez de Liaño 11, Jaboneta 9, Murell 6, Manzo 5, Prado 3, Vito 3, Ja. Gomez de Liaño 2, Lim 0, Tungcab 0, Spencer 0, Española 0, Gozum 0, Longa 0.
UST (69) - Lee 26, Subido 22, Bataller 7, Mahinay 4, Marcos 3, Huang 2, Cansino 2, Caunan 2, Zamora 1, Agustin 0, Bonleon 0.
Quarterscores: 19-22, 42-38, 63-54, 83-69
- The last time that the Fighting Maroons reached seven wins was 14 years ago back in Season 67. They have a chance to surpass this if they end the elimination round with another win.
- CJ Cansino was stretchered out of the floor due to an apparent left knee sprain. After being observed by team doctors, he returned to the sidelines in the second half to watch the game.
UST - November 14 (Wed) vs Ateneo Blue Eagles at Mall of Asia Arena
UP - November 14 (Wed) vs La Salle Green Archers at Mall of Asia Arena