FOR University of the Philippines to punch a ticket to its first Final Four apparance since 1997, a special talent had to have his hands on the steering wheel.
Mired in the bottom half with a 3-5 record at the halfway mark of UAAP Season 81, the Maroons turned over the reins on offense to the untested hands of Juan Gomez de Liano. The team has gone 5-1 since then.
Now, State U is bound for the Final Four for the first time in 21 years – and it was all because their sophomore standout, who had just turned 19, made all the right plays.
Gomez de Liano was at his best in the match-up against La Salle, where the No. 3 seed in the Final Four was up for grabs. The Season 80 Rookie of the Year finished with 27 points, four assists, and three rebounds.
For that, Gomez de Liano got the nod as the Chooks-to-Go Collegiate Sports Press Corps UAAP Player of the Week.
Gomez de Liano marked his birthday by edging out older brother Javi and another UP teammate in Bright Akhuetie, the Ateneo pair of Angelo Kouame and William Navarro, and NU’s one-and-done big man Troy Rike for the weekly award handed out by print and online scribes covering the beat.
All these was a promise fulfilled for him.
“I said offseason pa lang that we’re gonna make it to the Final Four. I promised coach Bo [Perasol], I promised everybody that we’ll be here, and now we’re here, we’re not taking it for granted,” he said.
Over the last six games, five of which the Maroons won, Gomez de Liano averaged 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6.8 assists off the bench. He normed 19.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists as a starter in the team's first eight games.
While they have finally broken through, however, Diliman’s homegrown talent said they are far from finished.
“On to the next one still. Now we’re in the Final Four, we’re still hungry for the finals,” he said.