By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons just showed how badly they want to bag that no. 1 seed heading into the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament Final Four.
Seeking for a win to gain a twice-to-beat advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Fighting Maroons dominated from the get-go and crushed the National University (NU) Bulldogs, 79-57, to nab their first-ever top-seed finish in the history of the UAAP Final Four era.
It was all Fighting Maroons after the first quarter whistle as their high-octane offense propelled them to an early 10-0 lead.
After the fiery start, the Bulldogs were left behind and failed to show some signs of life except for a span in the second frame where NU got close to six points.
Francis Lopez spearheaded UP’s statement victory after ending the final game of the eliminations with 13 big points.
The high-flying swingman showed no mercy to NU’s smaller forwards as he dominated the shaded lane with his unstoppable drives to the basket.
Despite a defensive adjustment deployed by NU head coach Jeff Napa to slow down UP’s interior scoring, the Fighting Maroons still found a way to respond and banked on their timely perimeter shooting.
Malick Diouf was also solid against the Bulldogs as his all-around performance of 11 points, eight rebounds, and four assists kept UP in the driver’s seat the whole second half.
CJ Cansino capped off the top-seed sealing game with an efficient 11-point outing built from a 5/6 shooting from the field.
The Fighting Maroons will now await the winner between the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles and the Adamson University who will still play for the final spot in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, in the other bracket, the DLSU Green Archers will set up a highly-anticipated Final Four showdown against the Bulldogs.