HOST school University of the Philippines won its first UAAP game opener for the first time in three years as the Fighting Maroons turned back University of the East, 62-55, in Saturday’s kicker of Season 78 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Gelo Vito waxed hot in the fourth quarter by firing three triples, but the Fighting Maroons still need to convert on their free throws in the waning seconds to keep at bay a rallying Red Warriors.
It was the first opening day win for the Diliman-based school since 2011 when ironically, it also beat UE, 69-61.
The win already equaled the Maroons’ record from last season when they were only able to beat Adamson.
“Thank you kay Lord sa kanya kami kumukuha ng lakas and without hin wala kami,” said winning coach Rensy Bajar, whose in his first year in the job after taking over the post from Rey Madrid.
“This game I told them that we must believe we can win,” said Bajar, a former PBA player. “They keep believing that they can win that's why this is the result.”
Vito led UP with 11 points as he caught fire in the fourth quarter to give the Fighting Maroons a 56-43 lead.
But the Warriors were not about to roll over and die.
Pouncing on the opposition’s turnovers, the Warriors went on a 12-3 tear to close within 55-59 in the final 20.8 seconds.
But Dave Moralde and Jerson Pardo, who was hit in the face by Chris Javier for a disqualifying foul, hit three of their free throws to ice the game for the host school.
“I want this team to have that never say die attitude,” said Bajar, the former San Beda point guard. “That whatever happens in the first quarter we'll come back. 'Yung discipline and character ng team 'yun ang nakita ninyo ngayon sa game.”
Moralde added eight markers for the Fighting Maroons, while Andres Desiderio and returning Jet Manuel had seven apiece.
Edison Batiller had 17 points to show the way for UE, while Javier finished with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds.
UP (62) - Vito 11, Moralde 8, Desiderio 7, Manuel 7, Dario 6, Prado 6, Amar 4, Longa 4, Asilum 3, Kone 3, Juruena 2, Gallarza 1, Harris 0, Lim 0, Webb 0, Jaboneta 0.
UE (55) - Batiller 17, Javier 10, Palma 6, Manalang 5, De Leon 4, Abanto 4, Charcos 2, Gagate 2, Yu 2, Sta. Ana 2, P. Varilla 1, Derige 0, Gonzales 0.
Quarterscores: 11-7; 29-25; 45-37; 62-55.