UP makes it two in a row

by Rian Jay Hernandez

The hard-fighting University of the Philippines staved off the willful University of Santo Tomas squad, 79-74, to post their second straight win at the start of the second round of the UAAP Men’s basketball tournament at the Big Dome.

Grizzled veterans Nestor David and Toti Almeda shouldered most of the points for the Maroons, combining for 25 big points in the first half alone as they established an early 45-30 cushion and never looked back.

“It was a good win but I’m not satisfied. I’m more scared when we have the lead because we have a tendency to relax,” said UP chief tactician Lito Vergara, who missed three games in the first round because of an unknown illness.

He added, “I wanted to instill in my players the killer instinct because our constant problem is that we don’t protect our lead very well. But the good thing is that our mental toughness was there. We didn’t succumb to pressure.”

A rash of injuries on key players such as Kenneth Robin and Marvin Cruz have kept the Maroons buried in ground zero. Their only victory came against another cellar-dweller, the National University Bulldogs.

But the Maroons showed the toughness and passion missing in the earlier part of their campaign, as they played heads-up perimeter defense to compile a 2-6 record. UST, which drew 19 points from Jemal Viscarra, fell to an even 4-4 slate.

Almeda’s unorthodox fastbreak lay-up gave the Maroons their biggest advantage, 56-38, with five minutes left in the third canto. But the Tigers growled back as they mounted an 8-2 run at crunch time, highlighted by a trifecta by Danny Pribhdas, to inch closer at 68-72, with 1:21 to go.

However, the Maroons, led by Josant Cervantes, shot 8-of-12 from the charity stripe down the stretch, to upset the Tigers. After Jireh Ibanes made the first of two freethrows for the final tally, Vergara rushed to his players at the bench and gave them high-fives.

David gathered 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Almeda had 16 points and three steals while Cervantes chipped in 12.