by Waylon Galvez
University of the Philippines survived a late rally by De La Salle as it snapped a three-game skid with a 67-61 win in UAAP men’s basketball yesterday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Nigerian center Bright Akhuetie and second year guard Juan Gomez de Liaño delivered the big plays for the Fighting Maroons in the final stretch before the Green Archers came back.
Up 61-47 on a basket by Diego Dario with 7:17 left, UP saw DLSU unleash a 13-0 run capped by a layup from Justine Baltazar that trimmed the deficit to 61-60 with 2:27 left.
De Liaño buried a jumper that gave the Maroons some breathing space. Then, after Akhuetie forced Baltazar to miss on a jumper, the 6-foot-7 center, on his first season with UP, set up De Liaño for an easy basket for a 65-60 advantage with 44.3 seconds to go.
Akhuetie, who previously played for University of Perpetual Help, finished with 19 points and 19 rebounds, while de Liaño added 17 points with six assists and three boards, and Paul Desiderio had 12 points.
UP’s victory improved its record to 2-3, ending a frustrating three-game losing skid after it won its opening game against University of the East (87-58) last September 8.
Part of that three-game skid was a heartbreaking 69-68 setback to league leader Adamson four days ago when Sean Manganti sank a teardrop-shot with seven-tenths of a second left.
“It was a painful game for us against Adamson,” said UP head coach Bo Perasol, whose team was up by double digits early in the fourth quarter against the still unbeaten Falcons.
“When you lose those games, you lose confidence. The only way to get that back is by winning and I’m just relieved that we were able to get this win. We’re hoping we can continue this in the next games.”
La Salle, which played with just 11 players as team captain Kib Montalbo missed the game due to a fractured left thumb, dropped to 2-2 and its two-game streak snapped.
Baltazar led the Archers with 13 points, while Aljun Melecio and Leo Santillan contributed 12 points apiece.
In the other game, University of the East claimed its first win this season at the expense of Far Eastern University, 90-65.
Alvin Pasaol came off the bench with 25 points to lead UE, while Jason Varilla added 17 points and Philip Manalang had 13 points and a season best 12 assists – the most by any player in years since former FEU star Terrence Romeo recorded 12 assists on June 29, 2013 in an 89-78 win versus UE.
The victory of UE was its first against FEU in four years.