UP will play in the Finals for the first time in 32 years after captain Paul Desiderio sinks a cold-blooded perimeter shot against Adamson University Soaring Falcons, 89-87 in the do-or-die Game 2 of the Final Four of the UAAP Season 81 Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Mythical Five member Juan Gomez De Liaño notched a career-high 30 points to spark UP’s offense in the first half. Paul Desiderio contributed on both ends with 16 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block while MVP Bright Akhuetie provided a steady presence with 13 points and 17 rebounds to help UP overcome the twice-to-beat disadvantage.

From a physical and a more defense-oriented first game, the second game proved to be a shootout as both teams traded treys after treys lead by both team’s ace players Juan and guard Jerrick Ahanmisi in the first half. But Juan just could not be stopped after scorching Adamson with 20 of his 30 points in the first half to power UP to a nine-point lead, 51-42.

Juan would continue to dominate in the first half of the third quarter after sinking a trey to grab a 16-point lead, the biggest of the game, 60-44. But Falcons would rely on their trademark weapon, their defense that pave way to a 23-4 run lead by defensive juggernaut Simon Camacho to end the quarter with the lead, 67-64.

The fourth quarter would be a defensive battle as neither team would want to be edged out until UP guard Jun Manzo converted a clutch layup after Ahanmisi scored a go-ahead bucket to give a 3-point cushion to UP in the last 10.7 seconds, 78-75. But Adamson guard Lastimosa has no plans on giving up just yet after a stepping back for a game-tying trey , delaying UP’s celebration.

Falcons would seize control of the first 2 minutes of the overtime after scoring 6 straight points. But Coach Bo Perasol lit a fire under UP which lead to consecutive baskets from Diego Dario, Javi Gomez De Liano, and Bright Akhuetie to tie the game. Desiderio would then take matters into his own hands by scoring UP’s last five points to stave off another Adamson comeback and seal a trip to the Finals.

“It wasn’t without hard work, it wasn’t without tears, it wasn’t without challenges. This team will fight no matter what,” said Perasol.

“There was a time when we already gave up, but I can just see it — I told myself that if I cannot stand for my team, if I cannot be confident for my team, if I cannot believe for my team, who else will believe?” Perasol added. “So I just kept encouraging them, letting them know that this is not over yet. And that was what happened.”

UP would face the defending champions Ateneo de Manila University for the coveted championship on December 1, Saturday, at the Mall of Asia Arena in what was tagged as the “Battle of Katipunan.”

The scores:

UP (89) — Gomez de Liaño Ju. 30, Desiderio 16, Akhuetie 13, Gomez de Liaño Ja. 8, Tungcab 6, Prado 6, Dario 5, Manzo 4, Jaboneta 1, Lim 0, Vito 0.

AdU (87) — Ahanmisi 20, Lastimosa 17, Sarr 16, Camacho 10, Pingoy 7, Manganti 6, Magbuhos V. 6, Espeleta 2, Mojica 2, Bernardo 1.

Quarter scores: 26-16, 51-42, 64-67, 78-78, 89-87.

(Photo by Kat Hembrador.)


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