History is at stake for University of the Philippines in their matchup against La Salle tomorrow at the Mall of Asia Arena.
A win against the Green Archers will give the Fighting Maroons and its community a welcome end to a 21-year Final Four drought — a goal that they just narrowly missed last year.
This easily makes it their biggest assignment this season, and arguably one of their most important games in the last two decades.
San Miguel star point guard Alex Cabagnot, who also moonlights as the basketball program’s skills coach, acknowledged just as much and hopes that his team is ready to perform under immense pressure.
“In the last 20 years, it’s one of the biggest games because in 1997, with the prowess of Paolo Mendoza they made it to the Final Four. We can’t control anything else but our actions and I hope and pray that the UP men’s basketball team is gearing up,” the seven-time PBA champion told FOX PH on Monday after Team Pilipinas’ first practice session.
Cabagnot, one of 20 hopefuls for the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, said that he and the team’s coaching staff have already done what they can do to prepare the Maroons.
Now it’s up to the players to deliver.
“As coaching staff also, we’re also helping them reach their pinnacle at this time, reach their zenith. And I hope it plays out [tomorrow],” he added.
Despite all these factors resting on the team’s shoulders, Cabagnot won’t blame the team if they miss out on the semifinals once more.
After all, they’ve improved year by year since new management came in, and that in itself is a feat that should earn them anyone’s respect — including his.
“My expectations for the team are always above and beyond. That’s my personal expectations for the team, pero I don’t wanna say it’s a total failure kasi last year we only won six games. The year before that, we only won five games,” Cabagnot said.
“If some unforsaken thing like losing happens, I’d still credit the guys for winning seven games. It’s been a long season, they deserve all the credit, but I wouldn’t think of it as a failure of a season. I think we’re consistently on the rise, and that’s what we pray for.”
Beating La Salle will automatically give the Maroons the third seed, but a loss complicates things.
In the event that they lose and Adamson wins over FEU on November 16, UP will have to battle it out with the Tamaraws for the fourth and final seed. A win by FEU, however, completely boots them out of the picture.
Between deciding their own fate and letting other teams hold it in their hands, everyone knows where UP wants to stand right now.
“I hope that the basketball gods are in our favor,” he closed.