UP 62 – UE 55
There were three things I got to say about the UP Fighting Maroons yesterday that I don’t really get to say too often. First, they are undefeated. Second, they are the league-leaders (well, now tied with UST). And third, the first two were because of Gelo-freaking-Vito!
Heading into this new season, I was extra optimistic about the Maroons. New players, new coaches, new logo, new errthang! Plus, as this season’s hosts, there was plenty of reasons for positive vibes.
For their first game of the season, the Fighting Maroons found themselves matched up against their same opening day opponents from last season, the UE Red Warriors. A team that relied heavily on Roi Sumang last year to keep them away from being cellar-dwellers. With the exit of their star point guard, and a vastly different cast, save for a few holdovers, beating the Red Warriors should be an easy task, right?
That’s what I thought. But as I watched the first quarter end with the Maroons leading 11-7 but with only one field goal (props, Diego Dario), I began to second-guess the team immediately.
UP was looking a bit rocky on the offensive. Sure, they’d get past the famous Pumaren press, but after that, they didn’t seem to have any source for a sure two points from any of their players.
Somehow, however, the boys from Diliman caught a groove. They started padding the lead and soon enough #UPFight and ‘double-digit lead’ were flooding Twitter.
Paul Desiderio and Jett Manuel decided to finally attack the basket and soon enough, it was a 13-point advantage for the troop in Maroon.
For a good stretch in the second, third and early in the fourth, UP was looking good. But midway through the fourth, UP started playing like UP – the version from previous seasons.
Errant passes leading to easy turnover points for UE, forced shots that could’ve easily been extra passes, cross-court throws to nowhere when pressured, those became the downfall of UP in the fourth. And before anyone could say #UPMeynteyn, the Warriors were back in the game.
And then it happened. The glorious Gelo Vito moment of the game.
UP’s offense had been swinging left to right, back to right, back to left, almost seemingly purposeless, the entire game. But in a crucial moment in the fourth quarter, that motion found Gelo Vito open at the top of the arc.
“Wag! Wag! Wag… Yes!” was all a group of UP supporters could say by the baseline.
Are you kidding?? Gelo Vito? Three? C’mon!
Beside me, a man shouted, “Hoy! Nice shot Vito pero ‘wag mo na uulitin ‘yun!”
But Vito was feeling it. Getting the exact same look on the very next possession, he started to gather for another long bomb as the same band of UP fans began to cringe together.
Gelo. Vito. Another three, bang!
It was hard to make sense of one three-pointer for the guy. But two? That was insane. I was certain he should stop there. That it was all the basketball gods were going to give him.
But guess what.
On the next possession, Gelo decided to try that theory out. After another swing, he caught the ball on the left elbow with a semi-open look. Semi. Open. But he was full of mojo.
Vito, packed with all the confidence in the world at that moment, took another one. And right after it left his hands, the ref blew the whistle for a foul. Thank goodness. Buti na lang may foul. No way he was going to make that.
EXCEPT HE DID.
For some mysterious reason, all the supernatural forces in this universe conspired to force that ball to bank in and give Gelo Vito his third consecutive three-pointer.
And at that point, after Vito annihilated them with back-to-back-to-back missiles, UE could hardly recover.
They did get close and put up another scare. But UP was able to fight it and repel a comeback.
And there it was. The UP Fighting Maroons. 1-0. Atop the standings.
And on the sideline, being interviewed, was the best player of the game. Gelo freaking Vito.
It wasn’t a perfect game for the Maroons. It was far from a performance that would be enough to topple giants like NU, FEU, La Salle and Ateneo. But it’s a start. It’s a win.
It’s a long way to go for the Maroons. But, at last, they’ve hit the road.
Photos by KC Cruz