The Warriors led by as much as 17 as they assaulted the Green Lancers’ perimeter defense with one timely three-point bomb after another capped by one from Ian Ortega to surge ahead, 72-55.
But hurried shots, turnovers, and a dry spell from the line by Cameroonian import Shooster Olago opened the door for a UV comeback.
The Green Lancers came as close as four in the dying seconds before Olago redeemed himself with three makes from the line and a huge steal to curb UV’s uprising for good.
The Warriors lead the best-of-five title series, 1-0.
Olago finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds while Ian Ortega, relishing the chance to be back in the finals after missing the team’s championship stint last season owing to a knee injury, scored 11.
Ian Tagapan and Charles Pepito added 10 each, with Pepito grabbing seven rebounds in spite of a badly injured wrist.
As expected, it was an intensely fought match with the Green Lancers riding on the razzle-dazzle play of Jun Manzo in an 11-1 run to grab a 26-18 lead.
But USC was too bullish, responding with a 13-2 blast - eight coming from Olago - to seize the upper hand at the break, 36-32.
They eventually raised the lead to 45-35 after a transition bucket by Ortega and pushed it all the way to 17 behind back-to-back triples from the same left corner by Tagapan and Ortega.
But the Green Lancers remained resilient as two free-throws by Manzo, a trey from Vincent Mendoza, and two quick baskets by Akomo, who seized the moment with Olago getting yanked out, sliced the deficit to 65-72.
Olago was sent back in and was promptly fouled by the Lancers and sent to the line where he missed four straight.
Two charity stripe makes by Akomo pulled UV to within 67-72 with 41 seconds left before Olago split his free-throws for a six-point USC lead.
Akomo banked one in as the Green Lancers threatened at 69-73, but Olago countered with another split to keep the rallying UV five at bay. He then stole the Lancers’ outlet pass and went two-for-two on another trip to the charity stripe to seal series opening win for USC.
Manzo scored 21 points to pace the Green Lancers, bidding for their 11th title in 15 seasons in the league.
Akomo finished with 16 points and eight boards.