Maroons take six-game run and Final Four seat into the break

UP center Malick Diouf. UAAP PHOTO

The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons will plunge into a 12-day break having won their last six games in the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball tournament.

They’re going to use that breather for a little introspection.

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“This break is nice because we get a chance to focus on ourselves and break down what we can get better on,” said Zavier Lucero. “So that coming into the next game, it doesn’t matter who we are playing because we’ve been working on us.’’

Lucero had 17 points on Thursday, helping the Maroons hose down a late challenge by the University of the East (UE) Warriors for an 83-69 victory that guaranteed the defending champions a Final Four appearance.

Malick Diouf was instrumental for UP after posting 23 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks in a big treat to the loud UP faithful at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Maroons got help in clinching a semifinal spot after Ateneo’s 68-54 victory over La Salle later in the night. UP next faces Far Eastern University (FEU) on Nov. 17, when the league returns from a break it is taking to give way to the Fiba World Cup Asian qualifying window.

Tamayo: No Gilas stint

UP big man Carl Tamayo was part of the national team pool but begged off due to an injury.

“I think I’m not 100 percent to join Gilas [Pilipinas] and I won’t be able to help them when I’m not one hundred percent,” Tamayo said. “I’m not confident with myself. I can feel that I need to rest and rehab. I think Gilas will understand.”

Lucero’s late exploits completely wore out the Warriors with back-to-back reverse layups in the closing minutes and sent UE to its sixth defeat in 10 games.

“The biggest thing for our team is making sure we’re well-oiled and ready to go within ourselves and it doesn’t matter what is on the other side of the court. We’ll be good in trying to kill every team out there,’’ said Lucero.

UP remains on top of the team standings with a ninth win in 10 outings with National U breathing down its neck after holding off FEU, 71-60.

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But the Bulldogs’ seventh win against three losses left them still two games behind the Maroons.

Not that UP is minding how the teams are stacked in the win-loss department.

“We’re not really into the standing of our team. Every time we play, we just view the game, talk about it and find ways to improve,’’ said Monteverde. “The focus is to execute as a team, try to move the ball well and make the right decisions. At the same time, we see to it that everybody works hard defensively.’’

National University (NU) had to crawl out of a 19-point hole to secure the victory as Patrick Yu poured 13 of his team-high 15 points to fuel the comeback.

“We saw in this game that we wanted it more. All 16 of us (on the bench) can step up anytime. I just waited for a chance to show what I can do out there,’’ said Yu, whose jumper and three gave the Bulldogs a comfortable eight-point cushion inside the final two minutes.

“We’re lucky enough to make a comeback. We didn’t give up, got the momentum and found a way to win,’’ said NU coach Jeff Napa after the Bulldogs notched a second straight win following a crucial victory over the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Also coming from behind to boost its semifinal chances were the Adamson Falcons, who watched as Cedrick Manzano sneaked in a basket and sank the game-winning free throw with 7.1 seconds in a 56-55 victory over out-of-luck University of Santo Tomas.

“We just managed to find ways,” said Adamson coach Nash Racela, whose Falcons managed to log their fourth win in nine games despite the absence of stars Jerom Lastimosa and Vince Magbuhos.