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The Road to Katipunan

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Sadly, for basketball diehards like myself, the UAAP Season 81 is almost at its end. For me, nothing beats the excitement of UAAP basketball, not even watching Lebron James or Ginebra San Miguel. The thrilling intensity, pureness of heart and the hunger to win of amateur college players are a joy, particularly if your favorite team is on a roll. It is this tremendous emotional lift that I have had for the past few days watching fantastic basketball that compels me to write once more about UAAP Season 81.

The Final Four Knockout Match: Adamson vs. UP

There are not enough words in the dictionary to describe the Final Four do-or-die knockout game between the Adamson Falcons and UP Fighting Maroons. Both games in their series were unbelievably so close and gut-wrenching that, for two straight games, the difference between the Falcons and the Maroons were just a measly two points for each battle and decided only in the last three seconds. And for the UP fanatics, or for that matter anybody who just loves the game of basketball, the final knockout game and UP Fighting Maroons team captain Paul Desiderios’s battle cry of “Atin ’to!” will be forever etched in the annals of college basketball greatness to be retold over and over again by future generations of UP followers.

UP took the early lead in the first half, 51-42, with Juan Gomez de Llano leading the way with his trifectas and bold insertions under the goal. The Maroons further padded their lead in the early part of the second half, again led by Juan. But slowly, however, Adamson’s deadshot Derrick Ahanmisi and the scrappy Jerom Lastimosa began to hit their stride and by the end of the third quarter, the Falcons finally took the lead, 67-64. The fourth quarter proved to be a nip-and-tuck affair with several lead changes. But UP seemed to have finally gained the upper hand after Jun Manzo made a twisting backboard layup shot with five seconds to go, Maroons up by three points, 78-75! With less than three seconds left, however, Lastimosa banked a miracle three-point shot to tie the game… overtime!

In the overtime period, at the 2:26 minutes marker, the Falcons took control, 84-78, again starring Lastimosa. With a seemingly lost ballgame already at that point, the Maroons fought back mightily with Dario, Akhuetie and Juan hitting crucial shots to tie the game. But the play of the day belonged to the heart and soul of the UP Maroons, team captain Paul Desiderio, who hit a triple and a jump shot to put UP ahead 89-87, 6.6 seconds left and making good on his pledge, “Atin ‘to.” As Lastimosa’s final desperate trey failed to hit the mark, the buzzer sounded and bedlam erupted in the Mall of Asia Arena as well as in UP Diliman, UP Los Banos, UP Manila and all the other UP communities all over the country.

As UP alumni, both my wife and I screamed and started jumping up and down as we felt an overwhelming feeling of pride and happiness and oneness with all other UP diehards following that final knockout game. And suddenly, I realize my dream has become a reality.
The Road to Katipunan begins!

I am sure that like so many other Ateneans who have also travelled that short stretch of a road of Katipunan from Loyola Heights to a totally different reality in Diliman, the Finals of UAAP 81 will be both a very pleasant and but perplexing experience. I am now often asked by friends and family who I will cheer for during this championship series. In all sincerity, I can honestly say without any doubt that I will cheer lustily for both Ateneo and UP as both unquestionably form a very big part of my life. My formation as a human being was molded in Ateneo, but I would not have met the love of my life and been introduced to the fraternal fellowship of Upsilon Sigma Phi had I not gone on to UP.

The Finals: Game One, Ateneo vs. UP

The game started with an early lead for UP. But this was quickly overhauled when Ateneo’s Thirdy Ravena started catching fire. A great high leaping defensive stop plus his incredible aerobatic penetration shots under the goal coupled with three-point shots from Raffy Verano, Adrian Wong and Matt Nieto and the usual steadiness of Anton Asistio put Ateneo on top, 26-18, by the end of the first quarter. With this hot start, it did seem that Ateneo would tear UP to pieces as expected by all the pundits. Usually, with this strong start, I would get all giddy and excited that Ateneo is about to wipe out the opposing team. This time around, however, was different. I couldn’t find it in my heart to be happy with an Ateneo blowout over UP. I told myself, please don’t let this be a lopsided game. Make the game close enough to allow UP a respectable showing. To my surprise however, the budding phenom Juan Gomez de Llano, the diminutive Diego Dario and the flashy guard Jun Manzo started hitting rainbow shots, ending the first half with UP behind only by one, 38-39.

An early second half three-point shot of the phenom Juan put UP in the lead, which however was quickly overhauled with swift responses from Thirdy and Matt Nieto. This set the tone for the second half, the UP Maroons led by Jun Manzo would make seemingly impossible shots and inch closer only to be frustrated by Matt Nieto’s heady plays. A nasty spill by Bright Akhuetie causing him to hyperextend his left leg and stay out for almost the rest of the game did not help matters for UP. To make things worse, the hero of the Adamson knockout series, Paul Desiderio, was ice cold. Finally, the all-around game of the Ateneo team and the excellent coaching, the endgame maturity and the championship experience of the Blue Eagles all conspired to make a major difference. Ateneo emerged the winner of Game One, 88-79. But the UP Fighting Maroons should hold their heads high as they lived up to their name as they fought to the very end as exemplified by the impossible return of Bright Akhuetie after suffering what surely was a painful injury of his leg. Game Two happens on Wednesday.

Until next week… One big fight!

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