MANILA, Philippines – Back in 2013, Paul Desiderio remembered just a few supporters at the University of the Philippines stands – which included former head coach Ricky Dandan's wife and supporter Robina Gokongwei-Pe – and seeing the rest of the crowd going against them.
But on Saturday, November 24, UP fans flocked to the Mall of Asia Arena and comprised the majority of the 14,000 attendees in their UAAP Final Four showdown against the No. 2 Adamson Falcons.
So Desiderio felt he had to make sure that the game won't be the last for the fans of State U.
"Sobrang nakakadagdag ng kumpiyansa, lalo na noong may times na nagra-rally. Pero nakikita mo ‘yung UP community nag-cheer pa rin sa 'min," said Desiderio as the Maroons escaped the Falcons, 73-71, to force a do-or-die game for the title berth.
(The crowd gave us so much confidence, especially during the times Adamson staged a rally. But you saw the UP community, they were still cheering for us.)
But if there’s anyone who can rally the team on and off the court, it’s definitely Desiderio.
Last season, the UP captain blurted “Atin 'to, papasok to!” during a UP huddle – then actually made it happen by draining the game-winning triple against University of Santo Tomas.
Since then, the phrase “Atin to” became the team’s battlecry at crunchtime. And on Wednesday, the clutch-shooting Desiderio was at it again.
With just 5.5 ticks left, the Fighting Maroons captain knocked in a clutch baseline jumper that gave them the 71-69 lead and electrified the raucous crowd all the more.
Even if the Falcons tied the game at 71-all in the last 3.7 seconds – with Sean Manganti sinking both his charities off a foul from Janjan Jaboneta – the Maroons had one more fight in them as Bright Akhuetie hit the game-winning basket.
And for Desiderio, the crowd also proved to be the sixth man that willed UP to pull off the thrilling win.
"Noong nagra-rally ‘yung Adamson sabi ko: ‘Ito na naman. Dito na naman kami maghihirap.’ Pero nakita ko ‘yung community, inisip namin na ‘di kami mag-give up," said Desiderio, who unloaded his game-high 19 points all in the 2nd half.
"Sabi ko bibigyan pa namin isa pang chance. Ayoko ko na last game ko kanina."
(When Adamson was rallying back I told myself: 'We're here again. We're going to have a hard time here.' But I saw the community and we were thinking that we can't give up. I said that we should give the crowd one more chance. I don't want this to be my last game.) – Rappler.com
More commonly known as “Bee”, Beatrice is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Phillippine sports governance, national teams, football and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.