ANTIPOLO — University of the Philippines secured its second straight Final Four appearance with a 71-68 win over De La Salle last night in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament before a big crowd at the Ynares Center here.
Kobe Paras shattered the thrilling contest’s last deadlock at 68-68 with a thunderous baseline slam dunk in the final 54.8 seconds that proved to be the winning moment for the Fighting Maroons, who improved to 9-4 mark.
Aside from also clinching the remaining twice-to-beat semifinals incentive, UP also gave University of Santo Tomas (8-6) a free ride to the Final Four.
Earlier, Far Eastern University clinched its seventh consecutive Final Four stint - the current longest active streak in the league - with an 82-58 romp of University of the East.
The loss, the seventh in 13 matches, eliminated the Green Archers from semis contention for the second straight season.
Reigning MVP Bright Akhuetie had a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds to go with two steals and two assists while Ricci Rivero chipped in 12 points, five boards and two assists for the Maroons.
UP, which has beaten La Salle four consecutive times dating back from last year, still has an unfinished business to settle as it tries to foil Katipunan rival Ateneo from jumping straight to the Finals in the final day of eliminations on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Looking like goners after a 2-4 start, the Tamaraws won six of their last eight contests in the elims to secure a spot in the semifinals.
”Well, who would have thought — di ba? – of us making it to the Final Four. Walang naniwala sa amin, except yung mga nandoon sa loob ng room, sa circle namin, and of course, FEU community,” said coach Olsen Racela.
”Pero we’re not done yet. Our goal every year is really to make it to the Final Four then we move on to the next goal. We’ve achieved our first goal,” he added.
FEU (82) — Comboy 17, Alforque 13, Gonzales 12, Tuffin 9, Stockton 7, Tchuente 5, Eboña 4, Torres 3, Bayquin 2, Bienes 2, Cani 2, Dulatre 2, Nunag 2, Tempra 2, Celzo 0, Mantua 0.
UE (58) — Suerte 16, Diakhite 13, Cruz 12, Tolentino 9, Manalang 5, Apacible 3, Antiporda 0, Beltran 0, Conner 0, Lorenzana 0, Mendoza 0, Pagsanjan 0, Sawat 0.
Quarterscores: 15-14, 40-26, 57-42, 82-58
UP (71) — Akhuetie 17, Rivero 12, Manzo 11, Paras 10, Ja. Gomez de Liaño 8, Webb 6, Ju. Gomez de Liaño 3, Prado 2, Tungcab 2, Spencer 0.
DLSU (68) — Malonzo 17, Melecio 12, Baltazar 10, Bates 8, Serrano 8, Lojera 4, Manuel 4, Bartlett 3, Hill 2, Caracut 0.
Quarterscores: 21-11, 35-34, 55-45, 71-68