New slogan, renewed Paul Desiderio rally Fighting Maroons

Paul Desiderio last season coined the rallying cry "Atin 'to!" (This is ours!) for the UP Fighting Maroons.

Desiderio established himself as one of the league's top offensive forces.

Things have changed this season.

"It's not anymore 'This is ours,'" Desiderio said in Filipino. "It's '16 Strong.'"

Desiderio and the Fighting Maroons began the season with high expectations. Previews and media analysts posited this was the year UP made the Final Four.

But reality hit hard as the Fighting Maroons sputtered to a 3-5 start. A new rallying cry was coined October 21 against the UE Red Warriors.

Desiderio walked out to the floor of the Filoil Flying V Centre wearing a black shirt with the words "16 STRONG" on the back. It was no coincidence UP came away with the win over UE.

On Wednesday, Desiderio sported the same shirt against the FEU Tamaraws.

In UP's 95-82 win, he unleashed a perfect first period, scoring 18 points, all from beyond the arc without missing a shot. His hot shooting set the tone and he finished with a career-high 31 points on 63-percent shooting. The only blemish was going 0-for-5 from the charity stripe.

"16 Strong - I want to make the sacrifice," Desiderio said in Filipino. "I've sacrificed that I want all of us. That when we enter the game, we're all equal."

Desiderio's near-perfect game had been a long time coming. He had little impact in UP's first nine games. He had his moments, but Wednesday was a reminder that he's still one of the best scorers in the league.

"First and foremost, I always think how coach Bo [Perasol] gave me the chance to play in UP," Desiderio said. "I thought about our last game during halftime. I really thought that we should really step up. I want to give coach Bo and the UP community a good ending. I did everything, I prepared, just so I can give back to coach Bo in my last year."

Contributions from Bright Akhuetie and Juan Gomez De Liaño shouldn't be overshadowed by Desiderio's 31 points. Akhuetie filled up the stat sheet with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists and Gomez De Liaño nearly had another triple-double with 19 points, 10 boards, and nine assists. UP had 27 team assists, the most by any team this season.