The 21-year Final Four drought is over for University of the Philippines.
The UP Fighting Maroons clinched a semifinal berth after dominating the De La Salle Green Archers, 97-81, in UAAP Season 81 Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
This marks the first time that the Fighting Maroons barged into the playoffs since 1997. The team ended the elimination round in third place with an 8-6 record to arrange a Final Four duel against the second-seeded Adamson Falcons.
"I really didn't expect the kind of response that my players did when we started the game," said UP coach Bo Perasol post-match. "I just painted to them the picture of us not having any accolades in the last decade. For all of us to have a chance to do this for the community, well it just happened. I was like part of the audience watching them."
Juan Gomez de Liaño torched the hoop from the get-go, connecting on four of his seven 3-point attempts. He also attacked aggressively and went 11-for-11 from the line for a game-high 27 points on top of four assists and three rebounds.
Javi Gomez de Liaño also starred with 19 points including four shots from downtown. Bright Akhuetie had another double-double outing of 16 points and 20 rebounds, while Paul Desiderio contributed ten points, four boards, and four assists.
The Gomez de Liaño brothers combined for six three-pointers in the first half alone to propel UP to a 52-29 lead at the break. They continued to wax hot in the last two quarters to help the Fighting Maroons maintain a double-digit cushion.
La Salle tried to fight back in the third period, with Andrei Caracut and Justine Baltazar leading the charge. An 8-0 rally allowed the Archers to come within 16 points early in the fourth but that was the closest that they reached.
Three straight treys from Javi and Desiderio, followed by a jump shot from Akhuetie, brought the lead back up to 24 midway through the final period. Juan then scored the last nine points for UP to seal the deal.
The Green Archers (8-6) now await the outcome of the FEU Tamaraws' (7-6) game against the Falcons to determine if a knockout match is needed for the last semifinal slot.
Baltazar topped for La Salle with 22 points, seven rebounds, and two assists in the loss. Aljun Melecio added 19 points and six assists.
UP (97) - Ju. Gomez de Liaño 27, Ja. Gomez de Liaño 19, Akhuetie 16, Desiderio 10, Manzo 6, Jaboneta 5, Dario 5, Tungcab 3, Gozum 2, Lim 2, Prado 2, Murrell 0, Vito 0.
DLSU (81) - Baltazar 22, Melecio 19, Caracut 12, Samuel 8, Santillan 6, Montalbo 5, Serrano 5, Bates 2, Manuel 2, Dyke 0.
Quarterscores: 25-17, 52-29, 75-54, 97-81
-- This is the Fighting Maroons' highest scoring output this season and it came at the most opportune time. They went 12-for-27 from beyond the arc, with eight triples coming from the Gomez de Liaño brothers.
-- Prior to this, the last UP team that entered the Final Four back in Season 60 was coached by Nic Jorge and led by key players Paolo Mendoza and the late Bryan Gahol.