When University of the Philippines coach Ricky Dandan entered the press room for the customary interview of the winning coach, the Fighting Maroons mentor remarked, “Ganito pala ang itsura dito.”
Dandan made his first appearance in the press room this season after the Maroons, following a series of close losses, finally broke through and snapped a 15-game losing streaking dating back to last season with a convincing 63-48 win over the University of the East at the conclusion of the first round of UAAP men’s basketball action at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“This is like sunshine after dark days of the torrential rains,” said Dandan, whose team lost its last nine games last season and its first six this season, including four by six points or less.
The Maroons made sure there would no let-up this time, as they practically led from start to finish to win their first game since August 4 of last year. They forced the Warriors into a maze of turnovers, while also crashing the boards aggressively and limiting UE to a team season-low in points.
The win was so big that "Congrats UP" trended worldwide minutes after the game ended as thousands of long-suffering UP fans finally had reason to celebrate.
With veteran Mark Lopez waxing hot, UP built leads of as many as eight points in the first half before settling for a 30-26 lead at the halftime break. UE crept to within two at 34-32 following a jumper by Erwin Duran early in the third period, but rookie sensation Henry Asilum scored seven unanswered points to give the Maroons a 41-32 lead.
UP opened up its first double-digit spread after Mike Silungan buried a corner triple that made it 50-40 with 44 seconds left in the third. The Warriors then proceeded to self-destruct, unable to score a single point over the first 6:18 of the fourth period as UP slowly pulled away to go up 54-41. During this stretch UE missed six consecutive free throws and flubbed eight straight field goal attempts.
Jun Gallanza’s triple with just 3:48 left finally broke the long drought, and this coupled with Roi Sumang’s drive cut the deficit to 46-54 and gave the Warriors a glimmer of hope. But Diony Hipolito hit a short jumper and Asilum caught a lead pass from Silungan for an unmolested lay-up that put the game beyond reach at 58-46 with only 1:38 left.
The 15-point win allowed the Maroons to snatch sixth place after the end of the first round, as they tied UE and Adamson at 1-6 but came up with the highest quotient. It also gave the team some life heading into the second round.
“Dito sa amin sa UP, losing hope is not an option,” Dandan said. “I'm sure this will propel us to a stronger second round. Fortitude is a big word for us. I think our guys showed it today.”
Asilum, the former youth player out of Cebu, continued to impress as he led the Maroons with 14 points. Sumang had 18 for the Warriors, who were hoping to build on their big 71-66 win over Adamson last Wednesday. But they just couldn’t do anything right against UP, committing 22 turnovers, shooting only 31% from the field and missing 16 free throws.