UP secures the twice-to-beat advantage, FEU completes Final Four cast

The UP Fighting Maroons battled toe-to-toe with the La Salle Green Archers until the very end. When the smoke cleared, the Maroons escaped with the 71-68 win. UP not only clinched a spot in the Final Four, they also secured the twice-to-beat advantage. They rise up to 9-4 for the season. La Salle was eliminated from contention as they lose their seventh game against six wins.

Bright Akhuetie played a big role in UP’s final run. He finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Ricci Rivero tied his season-high with 12 points. Jun Manzo had 11 points and eight assists, running the show for the team in the crucial stretch of the game. Jaime Malonzo tallied 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead La Salle.

The Fighting Maroons started out the game on fire. They jumped out to a 12-1 lead to start the ball game. Rivero and Manzo combined for 10 points during that strong start. The were able to extend their lead to 16 points when their bench went on a 6-0 run to open the second period.

With their season on the line, La Salle punched back. Justin Baltazar, Brandon Bates and Aljun Melecio teamed up as the Green Archers countered with a 21-0 bomb to take a five-point lead. Akhuetie salvaged the UP lead with five points in an 8-2 close to the half. The two teams traded runs in the second half as neither team could shake the other off.

With less than three minutes left in the game, Melecio caught fire. He drilled three free throws to give La Salle the lead back. He nailed a step-back jumper to extend that lead to four points. That was when Akhuetie pulled the Maroons even. He assisted on a Manzo basket and scored on an offensive put-back to tie the game.

Akhutie tied the game again after a score by Encho Serrano, setting up the clutch dunk by Kobe Paras to give UP the lead with less than a minute left in the game. The Green Archers couldn’t find the equalizer, as UP held on to win.

In the first game, the FEU Tamaraws initially secured a playoff for a Final Four spot with an 82-58 win over the UE Red Warriors. The finished the eliminations with an 8-6 record, tied with the UST Growling Tigers. With UP’s win over La Salle, FEU’s spot in the Playoffs was formalized. The Red Warriors drop down to 3-10 for the season.

Wendell Comboy once again caught fire from beyond the arc. He dropped five triples to lead the Tamaraws in scoring with 17 points. Royce Alforque had 13 points on 75% shooting while LJ Gonzales scored 12 and grabbed 10 rebounds. Rey Suerte had 16 points and 11 rebounds for UE.

After a tight first period, the FEU bench stepped in to provide the spark that the team needed. Barkley Eboña, Rey Bienes and Alec Stockton teamed up to lead the Tamaraws to a 10-2 run to build a nine-point lead in the game. Alforque, Comboy and Gonzales then stepped in to continue the FEU run. They built a 14-point lead heading to the halftime break.

It was all FEU in the second half of the game. Comboy, Alforque and Kenneth Tuffin all found their range as they Tamaraws ran away with the win, building a huge lead they would hold until the end.