All Paul Desiderio wanted was to give the UP Fighting Maroons another chance to inch closer to the championship. With UP's season and his collegiate career on the line, Desiderio twice delivered in the clutch to take the Fighting Maroons to victory over the Adamson Falcons on Saturday.
The graduating guard knocked down a crucial jumper that put his team ahead 71-69 with five seconds left before Sean Manganti knotted the score again with a pair of free throws. Then in the final three seconds, Desiderio provided a solid seal that kept Papi Sarr away from the basket, leaving enough space for Bright Akhuetie to hit the game-winner.
It was fitting that the crowd was chanting "Atin 'to" (This is ours), Desiderio's famous mantra, prior to that well-executed final possession that kept UP alive and extended the semifinal series to a rubber match.
"I really thought this was ours," Desiderio said. "That's why I gave a solid pick even if Papi Sarr was big and I'm just 5-10. I really saw that Bright was there, so I sealed Papi Sarr. That was really ours."
The 21-year-old star thanked the crowd for boosting his confidence, especially after a scoreless first half. With the fans' energy rubbing off on him and the whole team, Desiderio came alive after the break to finish with 19 points on top of eight rebounds and four assists.
"There were times in the game that Adamson was rallying, but you can still see the UP community cheering for us," he said. "I remember during my rookie year, there were only a few people watching the game. Now, it's packed. We're really fighting for the UP community."
After the match, UP coach Bo Perasol praised his skipper's leadership and desire to win.
"You know that he really wants it, you can see it in his eyes. He doesn't cheat on defense even if he goes all-out on offense," Perasol said. "He wants to end his playing career on a winning note. He wants to improve his reputation just in case he goes to the draft. But more than anything else, I think it's just when he sees the crowd, he wants to give back."
After ending a two-decade Final Four drought, the Fighting Maroons can make more history if they manage to barge into the finals for the first time in 32 years. But no matter what happens on Wednesday, Desiderio emphasized that he just wants to give his team a fighting chance.
"UP has not entered the finals for how many years," he said. "This is it. You never know. One game, one game. Even if we don't get it, at least we gave ourselves a chance."
"This is for the UP community. Before I exit, I just want to give them a good exit."