After drawing flak for his uninspired start in UAAP Season 82, Juan Gomez de Liaño proved he can still be relied on when it matters the most, knocking down the game winning shot in the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons’ narrow 72-71 win over the De La Salle Green Archers at the Mall of Asia Arena on Wednesday.
The 19-year-old lefty guard completed an interception of Aljun Melencio’s crosscourt pass, then proceeded to take a cold-blooded three-point dagger with 7.8 seconds left to steal the ball game. De Liaño finished with 10 points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block and helped UP clinch its fourth straight win and solidify its hold at 2nd place in the standings with a 5-1 record.
Speaking to reporters after the match, De Liaño bared the hardships he had to endure— both physically and mentally — prior to the start of the tournament.
“I’m really glad I made the right decision. I made the extra sacrifice to play the last three minutes despite all the injuries I have going through right now. I’ve faced so many injuries in the past five months. I’ve just been focusing on my rehab. So I’m really thankful to my team even though I’ve been struggling they still have the trust in me. I’ve really been working hard in the offseason. I feel like I’m good for these kinds of moments,” he shared.
Prior to the DLSU match, the 6’2 combo guard has only been averaging 5.2 points on 22-percent shooting from the field, to go along with 5.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists — far from his stellar numbers last year.
Pundits were quick to attribute his struggles to the arrival of Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero, but De Liaño has actually been dealing with a multitude of injuries in the offseason; from back spasms, to a hyperextended left knee, and a bum ankle.
UP’s head coach Bo Perasol, meanwhile, credited De Liano for his resolve in overcoming his injuries and confidence to take that important shot.
“The biggest shot came from Juan. He’s not even 100 percent yet when he took that shot. I had a deal with him. I know he’s struggling with his recovery with the kind of game he’s playing, but you know, Juan is a player, he’s a winner. He’s always a winner,” he said.
“I didn’t have any doubt in my mind when he was bringing the ball down that he was going for the 3-point shot. In fact, what I was looking at are his feet. That’s why when they reviewed it, I was so confident it was a 3-point shot because I was 100 percent sure he was going to take that shot. Juan is Juan. He made it in the end”.
UP will face the still undefeated Ateneo de Manila Eagles next on Sunday, September 29, and Perasol admitted his team has yet to come up with a game plan against the well-coached unit.
“You’re going up against a defending champion. They’ve been battering their opponents for double digits. I dunno. We watched the game earlier, they’re just an excellent team. I don’t know how we’re going to deal with that but come Sunday time I’m sure that we will be ready for them.