UP nears back-to-back UAAP titles, beats Ateneo in Finals Game 1

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UP Fighting Maroons' Harold Alarcon in Game 1 of the UAAP men's basketball finals. –UAAP PHOTO

UP Fighting Maroons’ Harold Alarcon in Game 1 of the UAAP men’s basketball finals. –UAAP PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines–University of the Philippines fired too many weapons Ateneo found hard to neutralize as the Fighting Maroons seized Game 1 of their UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament championship showdown with a compelling 72-66 win on Sunday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Harold Alarcon’s corner three ignited a big run midway in the fourth, creating the much-needed separation that the Maroons were able to protect the rest of the way as the defending champions moved closer to retaining the title.

Zavier Lucero scored 14 points, pulled down 10 boards, and registered two crucial blocks, one of which became the game-changer for the Maroons, who can sweep the best-of-three series come Wednesday.

A huge block by Lucero on Ange Kouame underneath prevented the Blue Eagles from cutting the lead down to two with 32 seconds left and giving them a chance to reverse the outcome.

UP's Zavier Lucero leads Fighting Maroons' attack in Game 1 of the UAAP men's basketball finals. –UAAP PHOTO

UP’s Zavier Lucero leads Fighting Maroons’ attack in Game 1 of the UAAP men’s basketball finals. –UAAP PHOTO

JD Cagulangan iced the win with a pair of freebies for UP, which is seeking to write history as the only team to win two championships in a single year.

The Maroons came out firing on all cylinders right in the first half as the No. 1 fast-breaking team this season forged ahead early with a double-digit advantage anchored on the efforts of Cyril Gonzales, Harold Alarcon and JD Cagulangan.

They managed to bump up that lead with solid contributions off the bench aside from the efficiently running breaks and transforming Ateneo’s costly errors in their favor.

Forthsky Padrigao’s floater, an open three by Dave Ildefonso and another long triple by Padrigao over the outstretched arms of Zavier Lucero pulled them with five.

Cagulangan grabbed the rebound above everybody else in the next sequence and ran the length of the floor as the UP offense found Lucero for a buzzer-beating layup that put them ahead, 42-35, at the half.

The trend remained unaltered in the third period with the Maroons sustaining a four-point edge going into the final quarter.

The only difference though was Padrigao’s trip to bench after hurting his right foot and scoring 16 points that kept the Blue Eagles into the fight.

Ateneo’s starting point guard remained glued to his seat for the remainder of the match, which was watched by a mix of blue and maroon 18,211 screaming fans.

The Scores

UP 72 — Lucero 14, Cagulangan 12, Alarcon 11, Diouf 9, Gonzales 8, Tamayo 7, Galinato 6, Spencer 5, Fortea 0, Abadiano 0.

ATENEO 66 — Padrigao 16, Kouame 15, Ildefonso 10, Andrade 10, Koon 9, Lazaro 3, Chiu 2, Gomez 1, Ballungay 0, Daves 0, Quitevis 0, Lao 0.

Quarters: 28-19, 42-35, 54-50, 72-66.

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