Fans of the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons are celebrating the end of their men’s basketball team’s 21-year drought in the UAAP Final Four after a 97-81 rout of the De La Salle University Green Archers on Wednesday.
Brothers Juan and Javi Gomez De Liaño put up 27 and 19 respectively to power the Maroons past the Archers and take control after an early 14-1 run.
The Maroons led by as much as 23 at halftime.
The state university is assured of the No. 3 seed and is headed for a collision course with No. 2 Adamson Soaring Falcons, who have the twice-to-beat advantage.
While UP and DLSU have identical 8-6 slates, UP is guaranteed the third spot for having a superior quotient for its victories over DLSU in the regular season.
UP head coach Bo Perasol, a former Fighting Maroon player himself, was moved to tears after the victory.
In media interviews after the game, he admitted that seeing an asterisk, which denoted final four qualification, next to UP’s name at the Mall of Asia Arena’s scoreboard during the singing of the school hymn was an emotional moment.
“I think I cried, is it real? There’s an asterisk, is that really for us?,” he said in Filipino.
Fans have joined the celebration for the UP men’s basketball team, who last made the Final Four in 1997.
It was in ‘97 when UP last made it to the Final Four
This season is the 81st season of the UAAP
The final score of the UP-DLSU game is 97-81
— Julles🐻 (@jbigbang_) November 14, 2018
— The Professional Heckler (@hecklerforever8) November 14, 2018
thought I wouldn’t cry about it but tanginaaaa. Waited 11 years for this!!!! Salamat Fighting Maroons! #UPFight! Final Four babyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!
— Kevin Datukon (@kevindatukon) November 14, 2018
The university’s administration also called for the continued support for the Fighting Maroons ahead of their match-up with the Falcons.
— UP System (@upsystem) November 14, 2018
Ending the drought
The Fighting Maroons last made the UAAP Final Four in 1997, when the league was not as publicized and recruiting imports was not a common practice. The Maroons, however, lost to the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, who went on to win the trophy.
The team would struggle in the 2000s and early 2010s, as formerly struggling schools such as the National University and Adamson University found their way to success. UP finished 8th from 2009 to 2014.
Due to their sparse success, inconsequential wins such as its victory over next-door neighbor Ateneo in 2008, a powerhouse at the time, and its victory over Adamson in 2014 to end a 27-game winless were treated as big events. After the victory over Adamson, a celebratory bonfire was held in the UP Diliman campus.
The arrival of new talents such as gunner Paul Desiderio and the De Liaño brothers saw the Maroons inch their way out of the cellar in recent years. UP finished 5-9 in 2016 and 6-8 in 2017, posing a credible threat to the league’s usual contenders.
The decision of Nigerian Bright Akhuetie to transfer to UP from the University of Perpetual Health in the National Collegiate Athletics Association was seen as instrumental in UP’s resurgence. The 6’8 center, who was the leading Most Valuable Player candidate at the end of the first round, scored 16 points in the matchup with La Salle.
The state university is expected to welcome two blue-chip newcomers in 2019: transferee Ricci Rivero from La Salle, and Kobe Paras, a member of the Gilas national team who saw action in the US NCAA Division 1.