University of the Philippines guard Jun Manzo arguably had his best game of the season in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 81 finals. Unfortunately, it came in a loss.
Manzo became UP's unlikely top-scorer on Saturday, catching fire and leading the charge with his teammates struggling to find the bottom of the net.
"I don't really look for my shots it just so happened that they went in," Manzo said in Filipino.
The Cebuano standout led his team with 19 points on an efficient 8-for-11 shooting clip, including three triples, while adding four rebounds, and three assists. UP had a legitimate chance to topple the mighty defending champions but Manzo's A-game became a necessity as the trio of Bright Akhuetie, Paul Desiderio, and Juan Gomez De Liaño were misfiring.
Akhuetie, who made an inspiring return to the game despite hyperextending his left knee, finished with just 10 points and five rebounds.
"Of course without Bright inside the court, it's like we can't get the rebounds," Manzo said on the absence of their big man. "It's on the stats that they had a lot of offensive rebounds when Bright wasn't there. So it's really a big loss if Bright isn't with us."
Desiderio also had a quiet game of five points before fouling out. UP's team captain did have eight assists but his scoring was sorely missed. Gomez De Liaño, meanwhile, still managed to get 17 points but struggled near the basket, going 2-for-7 from the 2-point range. He was also responsible for six UP turnovers.
As Ateneo defense zoned in on UP's three stars, Manzo became his team's best option for a number of offensive possessions. But for him, it was simply knowing his role and maximizing the opportunity given to him.
"I'm just focused on defense - to stop the 3-point shooting of (Anton) Asistio," he shared as the Ateneo shooting guard wound up with just four points and no 3-pointers. "But their other players scored. We're just going to bounce back next game."
Manzo and the Fighting Maroons learned the hard way of what it means to play in the UAAP finals after seeing the Blue Eagles masterfully execute in the endgame.
"They're really a team till the end. From start to finish, they're really a team," he said about their opponent. "You can't take away their experience in the finals."
Despite the loss, UP still has something positive to look forward to heading into Game 2.
"Their lead was still manageable. That what we can take away," Manzo said. "All I can say is that our team is really hungry and we won't take for granted the chance given to us by the Lord. Next game, we'll bounce back for sure."