ANTIPOLO, Philippines – The UP Fighting Maroons staved off a motivated De La Salle Green Archers side with a heart-stopping 71-68 victory to clinch a twice-to-beat advantage in the UAAP Season 82 Final Four at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City on Sunday, October 27.
Kobe Paras buried the go-ahead slam as UP put a lock on the No. 2 spot with a 9-4 record behind the unbeaten Ateneo Blue Eagles (13-0).
With the UP win, La Salle (6-7) got booted out of the playoff race as No. 3 FEU (8-6) and fourth-ranked UST (8-6) completed the Final Four cast.
Amid a gritty La Salle fightback, an unfazed Paras crushed home a go-ahead dunk, 70-68, with 54 ticks left following a Bright Akhuetie post bucket.
La Salle’s Encho Serrano then blew a fastbreak layup in the final 15 seconds before Jun Manzo sank the game-sealing free throw with two seconds left.
Akhuetie finished with a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double while Manzo and Ricci Rivero chipped in 12 markers apiece in yet another cardiac win.
UP closes out its elimination campaign on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena where the Maroons will try to spoil the Blue Eagles’ bid to jump straight to the Finals with a 14-0 sweep.
La Salle stormed back from 16 points down in the 2nd quarter as the Green Archers came alive with a massive 21-0 run to lead by 5, 32-27, off an Aljun Melecio pull-up triple with a minute to go.
However, the Maroons managed to barely regroup as Manzo banked in a buzzer-beating triple to take a 35-34 lead at intermission.
UP then regained control of the contest to begin the 3rd period with a 9-1 run for a 44-35 advantage off an easy Akhuetie layup at the 6:48 mark. They then took care of their gap this time as they entered the 4th up 10, 55-45.
Still, La Salle got themselves back within striking distance after Jamie Malonzo and Melecio capped a 6-1 run, 57-60, off consecutive buckets midway through the final frame.
Melecio then fished a foul from downtown and sank 3 straight charities to give the Archers a 64-62 lead in the final 3:18 of regulation.
On a roll, Melecio capped a 15-2 run with a stepback long two for a 66-62 La Salle edge at the three-minute mark.
Noah Webb and Akhuetie then sank two straight buckets to tie the game before Serrano raced the other way for the go-ahead layup, 68-66, at the 1:35 mark.
Akhuetie, however, tied it all up before Paras buried the deciding bucket.
UP 71 – Akhuetie 17, Rivero 12, Manzo 11, Paras 10, Ja. Gomez de Liano 8, Webb 6, Ju. Gomez de Liano 3, Prado 2, Tungcab 2, Spencer 0.
La Salle 68 – Malonzo 17, Melecio 12, Baltazar 10, Bates 8, Serrano 8, Lojera 4, Manuel 4, Bartlett 3, Hill 2, Caracut 0.
Quarters: 21-11, 35-34, 55-45, 71-68.