TRUTH be told, Bright Akhuetie wanted to make a statement when, without any second thoughts, he took off his left knee brace to finally get Game Two going on Wednesday.
"I just felt that coach Tab (Baldwin) didn't want me to play. So I removed it to say, 'Yeah, whatever it is, I'm still going grind through it.'," he said.
The tip-off was halted for 10 minutes as Ateneo raised concerns on the metal knee brace Akhuetie was wearing to aid his hyperextended left knee.
The Nigerian slotman was aware of the risks he was taking, but he knew better not to hold the game hostage as all he wanted was to fight for UP in the UAAP Season 81 Finals.
"In my head was, 'Come on, I got injured by your player. The least you can do is let me wear that and play if it's going to help me play.' But for him to still say that, whatever. I'll just take it off and go through no matter what," he said.
"I insisted on it. I just can't stay out there and not play."
Akhuetie hardly showed any signs of injury, pouring 19 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and a steal, but even his valiant effort could not net a win for the Fighting Maroons as the Blue Eagles took the 99-81 victory and sweep the best-of-three championship series.
Still, there's no shame for the heart Akhuetie showed in that gallant stand for UP.
"I feel abused by basketball," he said with a chuckle. "Man, it really hurts, but I tried. I wanted to stay out there and give what I could. Too bad it didn't go our way."
Runners-up as the Fighting Maroons may be, Akhuetie shared that the players still hold their head high given how big of an accomplishment this crew has done this year, not only ending a 21-year Final Four drought, but also making the Finals for the first time since 1986.
"We exceeded those expectations. They never thought we were going to make it especially with the way we started the season, but we made it to the Finals, baby! So I say we did great," he said while also not forgetting to give a toast to the champs.
"It wasn't what we expected, but (Ateneo) really fought for it. The way they played, there's no way we could have beaten Ateneo. They beat us hands down, straight up, and you have to give it to them. There's no way you can beat Ateneo if they played that way."
What Akhuetie can take away from this season, however, is seeing how the UP community came together just to support the team, coming in droves just to boost the squad when the stakes are this high.
Though he's sad that the Fighting Maroons weren't able to win the crown, he knows that they gave it all against the powerhouse Blue Eagles and that alone left an immense feeling of pride to their fellow Iskos.
"You can tell that they were all happy. It's been a while since the UP community were happy with our result and that's why we have to keep our heads up. If they still cheered for us after a game like this, man, what else can we say than be proud of ourselves and what we achieved?," he said. "So for us, we just have to work harder to get that chip."