WITH less than seven minutes left in Game One of the UAAP Season 85 men’s basketball finals and Ateneo playing catch up for most of the game, Blue Eagles guard Chris Koon attacked the hoop with bad intentions.
Not only was he looking to tie the game for the first time since early in the first half, he was looking to energize the entire blue side of the Mall of Asia Arena by dunking it over lanky University of the Philippines forward Zavier Lucero with two hands.
Unfortunately for him, things didn’t go as planned.
Instead of tying the game up with the dunk, Koon was denied emphatically by Lucero, sparking a 10-2 run which took the fight out of Ateneo, 72-66, on Sunday and moved the Fighting Maroons a win away from a second straight UAAP title.
For Lucero, the highlight block was just a byproduct of the mindset that their coach Goldwin Monteverde has instilled in them in practice.
“I think our team is, [our] coach always says it in practice it’s five versus one on the floor,” Lucero said after he finished with a solid all-around statline of 14 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
“Anytime there’s an opportunity to help if somebody is beaten [on defense], it’s on us to be there for those guys and make sure that no one’s left on an island so that was just me in the right place and the right time.”
Lucero also had another huge block in the end, denying an Ange Kouame putback with 32 seconds left in the game. Had Kouame hit that shot, the Blue Eagles would've only been down by one possession with plenty of time left on the clock.
The 6’6 forward, however, deflected the credit to his teammates, particularly Harold Alarcon who drained two three-pointers in that rally.
“All of our guys made plays and stepped up. After I blocked Chris, Harold hit a big three for us. It was a team effort today for sure,” he added.
Their coach in Monteverde lauded the whole team’s late-game defensive effort, particularly their ability to recover from some lapses.
“May mga times din naman na nagkakaron ng lapses but ang maganda naman dun, ever since before, yung team di naman sila tumitigil and they would always communicate [and talk about] their lapses and yun nga, na-sustain siya hanggang matapos yung game," said Monteverde.
If they can keep theis defensive intensity on Wednesday in Game Two at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the Maroons might just end the series right there and claim their second straight UAAP title after 32 years of futility.
For Lucero, fans can expect nothing less from them.
“You know, all of us have the responsibility of going in there and giving our best every single moment we're on the floor whether its [a] second or 30 minutes, you know? For me, I'm just trying to do that. It's been what I'm trying to do throughout my whole career not just here,” he said.
“This is it for this season so there's nothing left to do but to leave it on the floor. So, we gotta a lot of guys, I mean, guys playing through injuries, guys playing sick, and all that so, I'm glad that all of us were able to come together as one and give it our best.