The UP Fighting Maroons notched their third win in UAAP Season 82 after edging the NU Bulldogs, 80-79, Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
It was a close win for last year's runners-up, improving to 3-1 in the season while handing the Bulldogs, who remain winless with a 0-4 card, another heartbreaking defeat.
"The difficult part of trying to rev up your team when you go up against a 0-3 team is them thinking that they can just go past that particular team," said UP coach Bo Perasol. "NU is a lot, lot better than their 0-4 slate."
UP held a 78-71 lead with a little over two minutes remaining. Just when the Fighting Maroons were eyeing to breeze through their opponent, the Bulldogs had another run in them. After Dave Ildefonso connected on a pair of free throws, the deficit was cut to just two points with 32.3 seconds left on the clock. Bright Akhuetie finally ended the run by hitting his foul shots at the line, pushing the UP lead back to four.
Ildefonso answered with a difficult 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of two defenders, to breath life into NU with 11 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs, who have had all their games go down the wire this season, were given one last chance after David Murrell missed his free throws. Unfortunately, they failed to capture that elusive first win after John Lloyd Clemente missed his shot at the buzzer.
Kobe Paras fired away 25 points on 10-for-22 shooting to go along with six rebounds in his second game in the UAAP. Akhuetie had a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds while Javi Gomez De Liaño notched 17, anchored by five triples.
"I'm just grateful that we got the chance to finish the game like this," Paras said. "Just like what coach said, we just need to learn how to close games. Shout out to coach Jamike (Jarin) and his players, they put up one hell of a game. Just like what I said in the last interview, we just have to focus on the next game."
Ildefonso finished with 25 points and Issa Gaye put up 13 points and 13 rebounds for NU. Dave's brother Shaun added 13 points and seven boards.
The Fighting Maroons now turn their attention to the UE Red Warriors for their next assignment.
"We need to go out strong against UE who is in cloud 9 right now," Perasol said as the Red Warriors are fresh off a spectacular win over La Salle. "That's a very dangerous team. We have to find a way how to defend them, most especially their main scorers. But for ourselves, we just have to keep improving, keep playing with each other, keep playing through each other. That's the most important aspect of how we're going to grow as the season is going to pass."
UP 80 -- Paras 25, Akhuetie 19, Ja. Gomez de Liano 17, Tungcab 6, Manzo 4, Rivero 4, Longa 3, Murrell 2, Ju. Gomez de Liano 0, Gozum 0, Jaboneta 0, Prado 0, Spencer 0.
NU 79 -- D. Ildefonso 25, Gaye 13, S. Ildefonso 13, Gallego 9, Joson 8, Minerva 7, Clemente 2, Mosqueda 2, Diputado 0, Galinato 0, Malonzo 0, Oczon 0, Tibayan 0, Yu 0.
Quarters: 18-23, 44-36, 67-59, 80-79.
It was the third one-point defeat for the Bulldogs after suffering losses to the Adamson Falcons (84-83) and De La Salle Green Archers (83-82).
John Lloyd Clemente, who took the last shot for NU, finished with just two points on 1-for-6 shooting.
The Fighting Maroons was crisp with their offense, registering 46.9 percent from the field and 20 assists.
UP - vs UE on September 21 at Ynares Antipolo
NU - vs Ateneo on September 22 at Ynares Antipolo