The University of the Philippines' historic season continues to unfold.
Bright Akhuetie delivered the game-winning basket with 2.6 seconds left to give the Fighting Maroons a 73-71 win over the Adamson Falcons in the UAAP Season 81 Final Four inside a jam-packed Mall of Asia Arena on Saturday.
Adamson had no timeouts left after Akhuetie's clutch basket and Jonathan Espeleta's heave at the buzzer missed its mark.
"I was really praying for wisdom on what play we're gonna call," UP coach Bo Perasol said of his team's last sequence. "That particular play was a quick-hitter that we practice most of the time. I reminded that we do that in practice, every day, it just so happened that we were able to do that here."
Fresh from the inspiring win that catapulted themselves to the Final Four for the first time in 21 years, the Fighting Maroons displayed gritty defense throughout the game. As they limited Adamson's top scorers, they put their stamp in the third period and outscored their opponent 26-14 to establish an 11-point lead to start the fourth. But the Falcons showed why they were the second-seeded team, nearly pulling off a sensational comeback. Sean Manganti and Jerrick Ahanmisi caught fire in the payoff period to give Adamson a chance to win.
"There was a time that we got ahead, and for sure, everybody was thinking that we could have won it right away, but Adamson is not number two and not 10-4 for nothing," stressed Perasol. "They're a very resilient team. I just kept on telling them that no matter what happens, we have to go through these kinds of games. We're just blessed that we got out victorious tonight."
Papi Sarr led the fight for Adamson with 23 points while adding nine rebounds.
Paul Desiderio scored 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter to hold off the Falcons, including a go-ahead basket with 5.5 seconds left. Manganti, who has been a thorn on the side of UP, countered with two clutch free throws to tie the game. Manganti also had 10 points in the final period.
But all that was merely a precursor for a fantastic play by the Fighting Maroons to free up Akhuetie for the game-winning play.
"Again, these are the plays that we practice almost every day. These are the plays that in fact, we build, and we did it also last night," Perasol said.
Akhuetie, who is likely to win the league MVP award, finished with just six points but did have 14 rebounds and two blocks.
UP and Adamson square off for the right to enter the finals next Wednesday.
UP 73 - Desiderio 19, Gomez de Liano Ju 19, Manzo 9, Gomez de Liano Ja 9, Akhuetie 6, Prado 4, Dario 3, Jaboneta 2, Vito 2, Murrell 0, Gozum 0, Lim 0, Tungcab 0
ADAMSON 71 - Sarr 23, Manganti 15, Ahanmisi 9, Camacho 8, Lastimosa 7, Espeleta 5, Magbuhos V 4, Pingoy 0, Mojica 0, Catapusan 0, Bernardo 0
QUARTER SCORES: 17-16, 28-29, 54-43, 73-71
-- Jerrick Ahanmisi came into the ballgame as Adamson's leading scorer with 18.0 a game. On Saturday, he was limited to just nine points on 2-for-12 shooting.
-- The Falcons only shot 1-for-22 from beyond the arc. Including their last game, they are a horrendous 2-for-42.
-- Paul Desiderio scored zero points in the first half and scored all of his 19 points in the last two quarters.
UP vs Adamson on Wednesday, November 28.