Winning its last 2 games has encouraged UP to entertain hopes of making it to the Final Four round of the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tournament.
Whether they’ll take another big step forward or suffer another reality check will be known on Saturday when the Fighting Maroons try to extend their winning streak to 3 against undefeated La Salle at 2 p.m. at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
After prevailing against semifinal hopefuls Ateneo and Adamson in their first 2 second-round assignments, UP found itself closer to a ‘Magic Four’ spot with a 3-6 berth, leaving its first-year coach Bo Perasol and the Fighting Maroons with a collective sense of optimism that they have what it takes.
“I really believe what we have right now is enough to be able to compete and contend against the tougher opponents,” said Perasol following UP’s 70-66 win over Adamson last Wednesday. “Our goal is to get through our next game and our next game will be our toughest.”
The Fighting Maroons are expected to have their hands full on their bid to avenge a 71-89 setback in their first-round meeting with the Green Archers, who are eager to close in on for a Final Four berth with a ninth straight victory.
La Salle, fresh from a 6-day break, is expected to lean mainly anew on dominant Cameroon import Ben Mbala and a loaded support led by veterans Abu Tratter, Kib Montalbo, Ricci Rivero, Andrei Caracut and Jeron Teng, who could return to action after dealing with bone spurs on his left ankle.
“Ano ba sasabihin ko against La Salle? May sasabihin pa ba ako dun? UP fight na lang. Laban lang,” said Perasol, keeping the Fighting Maroons, led by Jett Manuel and Paul Desiderio, upbeat for what’s expected to be a tough grind.
“We have the strongest opponent coming up. We’re taking it one win at the time,” said Manuel. “Looking at the bigger picture, we want to shoot for the Final Four spot. But I’m gonna keep the team grounded. Even me, myself because based on experience, I know it’s a long second round and a lot of things can happen.” — By Jerome Lagunzad